William Tisdale Music for Virginal unusual fare

There are plenty of Renaissance keyboard recordings floating around. So what makes this release special. Three things: the music, the performer, and the instrument.

The music is mostly from Tisdales Virginal Book, supplemented with selections from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. Very little is known about William Tisdale, save that he was a composer and keyboardist active around 1600.

The Tisdale Virginal Book is a collection thought to be written by Tisdale. It includes 21 pieces by William Byrd, John Dowland, Thomas Morley, and other English composers.

First, the music. The Tisdale Virginal Book and the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book were the few places Tisdale’s music was preserved. Tisdale wrote in a richly complex harmonic language that sets his music apart. To hear most of Tisdale’s works gathered together show the consistent quality of his style.

Second, the performer. Charles Metz is a masterful musician. He’s one of the leading early music keyboardists in the country, and that skill is readily apparent. His playing is both clear and focused. Some virginal music cans descend into a flurry of notes. Not so with Metz. No matter how busy the music became, Metz always managed to keep the melodic lines well delineated.

Third, the instrument. Metz performs on a Francesco Poggi virginal built around 1590. The instrument is completely restored and tuned to A=406 Hz, much lower than our modern A=440. Plus, Metz opted for meantone tuning, instead of modern equal temperament. What does that mean?

The sound is much closer to what Tisdale was used to. The notes have a richness to them, thanks to the lower-pitched instrument. Plus, the harmonies — and keys — have slightly different characters to them in meantone tuning. That additional brightness (and sometimes dissonance) was a part of the Renaissance composer’s palette — and one that’s lost in modern tuning systems.

Unusual repertoire played by a talented artist on an instrument the music was intended for. Those are the three things that made this release a standout for me.

William Tisdale: Music for Virginal
Charles Metz, virginal
Navona Records 


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