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Basically Bull / Alan Feinberg

Release Date: 06/25/2013
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30019
Composer:  Thomas Tomkins ,  John Bull ,  William Byrd ,  John Blitheman  ...  Performer:  Alan Feinberg Number of Discs: 1
Recorded in: Stereo

A pianist explores the uncharted territory of the 16th-century keyboard.

Album Credits:
Recorded January 15-17, 2013 at Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia.
Producer: Dan Merceruio
Engineer: Daniel Shores

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Piano Technician: Dan Jessie
Piano: Steinway Model D #590904 (New York)

Of all the great English composers of this period, it is John Bull who stands out as the most maniacal keyboard virtuoso.

While others provided popular tunes and simple dances for the new instrument called the “virginal,” John Bull offered up
Read more experimental, challenging works, pieces that exuberantly overstepped conventional musical expectations. Fashioning a group of these works to function in concert and translating them to the wildly different timbre of the modern piano has been an exciting venture into the 16th- and 17th-century avant-garde. Bull’s music is brimming with invention and inspiration, power and passion. – Alan Feinberg

English virginal music from the 16th and early 17th centuries played on a modern Steinway? Unthinkable! Shocking! Forget it; this disc is fabulous. It may be a heretical notion in this era of authenticity, but the simple fact is that anything a harpsichord or virginal can do, a piano can do better, never mind its other advantages. Compare, for example, pianist Alan Feinberg’s way with the conclusion of John Bull’s In Nomine IX to a very good harpsichord version (Bob van Asperen on Teldec), and you will have to acknowledge the piano’s inherent superiority (sound clips). The latter’s sensitivity to touch, dynamic range, degrees of articulation, and timbral warmth just blow away the dense, mechanical clatter of the harpsichord—and that’s no bull.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the harpsichord, and have never agreed with Beecham’s description of the sound of the instrument as “two skeletons copulating on a tin roof”. However, it is very difficult to find a really good-sounding instrument, and particularly in heavily contrapuntal music such as this the piano offers an unbeatable medium in which to explore a style that at times sounds astonishingly modern. The aforementioned In Nomine IX, for example, moves forward in an unexpected 11/4 meter. Some of the fantasias employ a striking degree of chromaticism. Redford’s Eterne rex altissime, Blitheman’s Gloria tibi Trinitas, and Bull’s Christe redemptor omnium, like the two In Nomine pieces, take a fragment of vocal polyphony and turn it into a virtuoso extravaganza of intertwining melodic lines and affecting harmonies.

Indeed, all of the works here, from the simple Dutch Dance to the Pavanes and Galliards of Bull’s contemporaries Byrd, Gibbons, and Tomkins, reveal a remarkably mature, expressive musical language, one that you can appreciate afresh in Alan Feinberg’s vibrant interpretations. He doesn’t romanticize the music. Indeed, as you can hear for yourself his rhythm tends to be steadier than van Asperen’s, who uses agogic inflection tastefully to compensate for his instrument’s inherent lack of expressivity. But Feinberg also isn’t afraid to exploit the piano’s full range of musical capabilities, wholly to the music’s advantage in terms of balance, rhythm, and articulation.

Sonically the recording sounds beautiful, richly capturing the timbre of the piano without any blurring of the musical lines. After listening, you will certainly be left wondering why this music has remained the province of early music specialists. It would grace any modern recital program. Glenn Gould’s disc of music by Gibbons and Byrd gave piano mavens a first inkling of the riches contained in this repertoire, and it’s surprising that so few major pianists have taken up the challenge. We’re lucky that Alan Feinberg has done it so superbly. A revelation.

-- David Hurwitz,

If John Bull’s keyboard music hasn’t received the kind of attention given to that of William Byrd (which the learned and agile David Moroney has recorded complete, and with copious notes, on Hyperion 44461), it still has several adherents. Siegbert Rampe recorded a fine disc in 2005 (MDG 341) that I praised at the time, while criticizing a penchant for rushing. Bob van Asperen (Teldec 4683619) and Joseph Payne (BIS 729) have joined in as well. The most hopeful development has been the first release (301) in what promises to be the complete keyboard music from Musica Omnia, featuring Peter Watchorn and Mahan Esfahani; and though that appeared in 2009, the small company is still active, and promises future updates. I hope this works out for them. Small companies rely even more heavily than large ones upon the proceeds of sales to determine future direction.

That said, we have here an entry out of left field, a disc of Bull’s music (technically 13 selections, with seven by his English contemporaries) performed not on the clavichord, harpsichord, virginal, or organ, but modern piano. Alan Feinberg is best known for his several recordings of 20th-century works by the likes of Ives and Cowell, though clearly he relishes the challenge of working against stereotype. This applies as well to thinking through an approach to this Elizabethan keyboard music that would be acceptable on his instrument.

Feinberg effects a compromise between the sound of the harpsichord and piano. To get a greater definition approaching that of the harpsichord, the sustaining pedal is all but eschewed, while the piano’s ability to deliver a wider range of colors through variation in touch is made use of to good advantage, with Bull’s delicate Pavan in the Second Tone and exuberant Galliard furnishing strong examples. Feinberg doesn’t press the point greatly, so that at no time does the music come across as though rendered by an early 20th-century advocate looking to make the most of orchestral-sounding contrasts (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that view, when it’s delivered by a skilled and thoughtful performer such as Mordecai Shehori).

It’s the intimate sensitivity of Feinberg’s playing here that ultimately wins me over, all other virtues to one side. His version of Bull’s ninth In Nomine is performed more flexibly than Rampe’s, and taken at a moderate tempo that works to greater advantage, as well. Simpler pieces (Bull’s Canon 4 in 2) are treated simply; and a few of the dances that could have been done boisterously, such as the Dutch Dance, are instead given what we moderns might call the French treatment: supple style brisé phrasing, thoughtful pacing, and turns supplying a functional weight. My only regret for this album is that Feinberg, who clearly relishes the complexity of Bull’s voicing, does not take on the most technically and structurally ambitious of all his keyboard works, the Walsingham Variations. That aside, and in excellent sound, this is a winner of a release.

-- Barry Brenesal, Fanfare

In 1613 John Bull left England for Flanders, where he soon took up a position as organist at Antwerp Cathedral. If his reputation as a composer and keyboard virtuoso preceded him, so did fame of another kind. “The man hath more music than honesty and is as famous for marring of virginity as he is for fingering of organs and virginals,” wrote George Abbot, the archbishop of Canterbury. Of all Elizabethan composers, Bull had the most picaresque life, punctuated with fistfights, adultery and, possibly, a stint as a spy. But it is in his astonishingly virtuosic and forward-looking compositions that his roaming curiosity reveals itself fully. A new recording by Alan Feinberg translates the exquisite chromatic ruminations and intricate counterpoint of Bull’s keyboard works, and of some contemporaries, into the lush sound world of the modern piano. The CD’s playful title is “Basically Bull: Or, the adventurous keyboard worlds of the vexatious Elizabethan composer John Bull, and his contemporaries, the virginalists who invented virtuoso keyboard music, as performed on a Steinway D and recorded on cold winter’s day in Virginia…” (Steinway). It is a mark of Mr. Feinberg’s skill that playfulness, along with grace and exuberance, characterizes his performances of these 400-year-old miniatures even though their technical demands are of a sort rarely encountered again until the 20th century. (This according to the liner notes by Mr. Feinberg, who specializes in contemporary music.) Played on the modern piano the high-speed runs and contrapuntal puzzles of these Pavans, Galliards and Fantasies lose the metallic sparkle of the harpsichord-like virginals. But the greater polish and resonance helps to illuminate the singing lines of works like the dreamy “Pavan in the Second Tone” by Bull or Byrd’s “Qui Passe: for my ladye nevell,” in which a melancholic modal opening gives way to an increasingly flashy invitation to dance.

-- The New York Times

"John Bull, who met and was to exceed in productivity the Antwerp keyboard genius Jan Sweelinck, provides the focus of pianist Alan Feinberg’s excursions on this disc. Feinberg has taken a select group of diverse works and transcribed them to the demands of the modern Steinway, sensitive to the originals’ timbre and affect while preserving their often daring harmonic progressions. ...Excellent Steinway sound, courtesy of engineer Daniel Shores. " -- Gary Lemco, Audiophile Audition

"Usually Feinberg is heard championing the works of contemporary composers, but here he proves he has a deft hand at Renaissance music as he imparts an airy and expansive countenance to Bull's music. And because some of the works are getting their first outing on the modern keyboard, it is more than notable. There is something fetching about this Elizabethan music; it sounds contemporary, bratty and fresh."

-- Edward Ortiz, The Sacramento Bee

Virtuoso pianist Alan Feinberg's new Basically Bull [is] a disc of very early English keyboard music. Early, indeed, in that this project is based on the first collection of keyboard music ever printed in England (1611). These works by Bull, Byrd, and Gibbons were composed for the early instrument known as the virginals.The virginals is a smaller, less complex version of the later harpsichord, with only one string per note. The virginals also plucks the string closer to the middle than to the end, both factors resulting in a softer tone than the harpsichord—vox virginalis (the voice of a young girl) might be the origin of the instrument's name. All of which is carefully calculated to bring on a big case of historically informed heebie-jeebies. Take music originally written for an instrument so quiet that a normal conversation will drown it out, and so small that you can tuck one under each arm, and rack that music on one of Steinway's half-ton D-series concert grands. Yeah, right. It'll never work.

It took Alan Feinberg about 10 seconds to prove me wrong. Which was a surprise, in large part because my previous encounters with Feinberg had been his Argo series of American piano works. I'd been tremendously impressed by his red-blooded performance of Percy Grainger's transcription of Fauré's Après un Rêve, with lusciously rolling romantic chords. (American? Grainger emigrated to the US and became a citizen during WWI.)

Given that, and the fact that Feinberg's teacher at Juilliard, Mieczyslaw Munz, was a student of Busoni's, I was expecting piano playing beyond large-scale. Wrong-ola. To me, Feinberg's chaste, almost self-effacing playing on Basically Bull calls to mind Glenn Gould's Bach and André Watts's Scarlatti—not bad company. If he used the Steinway's pedals at all, this nonplayer couldn't hear it. The result is as close to period-correct as I can imagine a grand piano's being capable of. Bravo.

The usual online retailers have sound samples up. Listen to track 1, "A Sad Pavan: for these distracted times," which Thomas Tomkins composed a few days after the beheading of Charles I. Earlier in the English Civil War, Worcester Cathedral had been desecrated and its organ destroyed, and Tomkins's house nearby rendered uninhabitable by cannon shot. I and every musical friend I've stplayed this CD for decided within 10 seconds that the result musically justifies itself. Played with dynamic sensitivity, extreme virtuosity in finger control, and a certain humility in approach, a grand piano can offer valid insights into this music. The instrument's ability to sustain a note longer than can early keyboard instruments brings out harmonic complexities in ways plucking does not.

The sound is excellent. The venue, a former church in Virginia, is now the home of Sono Luminus Studios, the outfit that picked up the pieces of Dorian when that label went bankrupt. Even if the last solo-piano recording you really enjoyed was George Winston's December, I think you'll love Basically Bull. Highly recommended.

-- John Marks, Stereophile

When people speak of a musical avant-garde, they are usually referring to works from the 20th and 21st centuries. But on this fascinating recording, pianist Alan Feinberg (BM ’72, MM ’73, piano) has found a cutting edge in the repertoire of John Bull (1562–1628) and some of his contemporaries. As Feinberg writes in his liner notes, “Bull offered up experimental, challenging works—pieces that so exuberantly overstepped conventional musical and instrumental expectations that they were essentially and deeply antithetical to the polite dictates of the upper class.”

Feinberg highlights these qualities by placing Bull’s works alongside those of William Byrd (c 1543–1623) and others, many of which are equally captivating, even if often less dense than those of the “vexatious” Dr Bull (as he is referred to on the CD cover and which some called him during his lifetime). A gentle Gloria tibi Trinitas from John Blitheman (1525–1591) and two masterful choices from Orlando Gibbons (Fantasia and Pavan) show that keyboard virtuosity is but one element of expressivity.

Other notable tracks are Bull’s brief galliard “St. Thomas, Wake!” with its extravagant keyboard splashes, his dancelike In Nomine IX, and the contrapuntal Ut, re, me, fa, sol, la—the latter among many of the Bull works collected in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, which can be seen in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (UK). At the simpler end of the spectrum is Eterne Rex Altissime by John Redford (d 1547), which is beguiling in its grace and yet surprising when the melodic line takes an occasional unexpected turn. A number of the pieces, such as In Nomine V and Bull’s Goodnight, begin innocuously but the writing grows more difficult as they progress, giving Feinberg’s agile hands a workout across the keyboard.

Throughout the program, Feinberg shows great care and even a bit of restraint that, coupled with rhythmic accuracy and carefully executed ornaments, make this disc a joy. The alluring recording, which is clear and without a hint of harshness, was made by Daniel Shores at Sono Luminus Studios in Boyce, Va.

-- The Juilliard Journal Online

"Ever since acquiring Glenn Gould’s fascinating album consisting of the music of Byrd and Gibbons (later to be supplemented by Sweelinck on the CD reissue), I have wondered why more pianists don’t play this extremely fascinating and rewarding music. Do they not have the right temperament to pull it off? Would this music sound lesser in another pianist’s hands? Not according to Alan Feinberg. He has crafted a program of some of the best music of the time into an over 70-minute program which entertains and which only gets better the more one listens. This is great music, fabulously programmed, and expertly played. What more could one ask for?"

-- Scott Noriega, Fanfare

The vexatious, adulterous John Bull (descriptors used by his contemporaries) lived from 1562 to 1628; he and some of his contemporaries wrote this music for the virginal (a noun, not an adjective, and a member of the harpsichord family; Feinberg plays a Steinway piano here). Music from the early Baroque could be untamed, dissonant, florid, even grotesque; there are daring, knotty harmonies that other quills would not have deigned to impose on refined listeners. Heated scales and arpeggios seem scorched onto the page by lightning, and the religious pieces are more argumentative than worshipful. Feinberg is one of the few pianists other than Glenn Gould to tackle this repertory. It wasn’t written for the concert stage; it can be awkward; it isn’t in demand like the Moonlight Sonata. Much of it is the exuberant and hilarious drunk cousin of Byrd’s exquisite vocal works, the sort of missing link that should have evolved later—there are abstractions you won’t hear until late Beethoven. Feinberg calls it the 17th Century avant-garde, and that’s succinct and accurate. He doesn’t have quite the penetration Gould does, but he gives these tunes a vigorous and stylish reading.

-- The Absolute Sound

The great English virginal composers have long been among my favorites, and I played their music from a very early time—on the piano and in near-total ignorance of how they probably were meant to be played. Until now, I’ve only heard this music on piano as performed by Glenn Gould and never imagined I’d hear another pianist attempt it. Imagine my surprise to see Alan Feinberg—a pianist who has specialized in 20th Century music—in just such a collection. This program is miraculous: Feinberg has the fingers for such punishing pieces as Bull’s ‘Galliard St Thomas Wake’, but the bulk of his program is devoted to the luminous, bittersweet pavans and other works, all of which he plays with the most singing tone imaginable. (Remember that many of these composers were also active in vocal music.) He uses the sustain pedal generously, avoids all the hard-bitten staccato that most pianists think is necessary for the performance of early music, and—in short—performs with extremely compelling expression.

The pavan-galliard pair ‘in the Second Tone’ by Bull is only one high point among many: in the pavan, the phrases unfold with elegant rubato, ornaments intensify the melodic poignancy of the music, and various kinds of arpeggiation clarify the different lines of the music just as they would when played on an older instrument; in the galliard he demonstrates the almost nonchalant virtuosity that Bull must have possessed himself, but never allows the fireworks to overwhelm the essentially lyrical conception of the music that he favors. The sound is exquisite. All in all, an extraordinary release.

-- American Record Guide

Yes, as you can see, the album’s title is playfully misleading. Instead of what you might expect at first glance, American classical pianist Alan Feinberg plays mostly the music of Englishman John Bull. Feinberg has won numerous awards and received four Grammy nominations, along with touring internationally and building an extensive discography. His interest lately appears to be in contrasting older music and new, with Basically Bull reaching all the way back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with piano pieces by Elizabethan composer, keyboardist, and organ builder John Bull (1562–1628) and several of Bull’s contemporaries. Feinberg does it up in a vivacious, lighthearted manner, providing a good deal (73:36) of lively fun, even if much of the music on the disc appears a little dour in tone.

As Mr Feinberg explains it, “While others provided popular tunes and simple dances for the new instrument called the ‘virginal,’ John Bull offered up experimental, challenging works, pieces that exuberantly overstepped conventional musical expectations. Fashioning a group of these works to function in concert and translating them to the wildly different timbre of the modern piano has been an exciting venture into the 16th and 17th century avant-garde. Bull’s music is brimming with invention and inspiration, power and passion.”

So, how famous was John Bull? He was among the most-celebrated keyboard composers of his day, contributed to the first-ever volume of keyboard music published in England, and may have even written the British de facto national anthem “God Save the Queen.” That famous. He was probably not, however, the inspiration for the character of the United Kingdom’s personification, that stout country gentleman used in political cartoons much as the U.S. uses Uncle Sam. That John Bull was the creation of Dr John Arbuthnot almost a century later.

Anyway, Bull wrote largely for the newfangled musical instrument called the virginal, a kind of early harpsichord and a precursor of the present-day piano. And he didn’t just write what everyone else was writing; he wrote new, daring, experimental tunes. Maybe it was partly because of his avant-garde musical style and partly because of his libertine lifestyle that Bull fled England in 1613. Certainly, though, his music doesn’t sound all that unconventional to us today; times change.

Bull’s keyboard music as represented on this disc runs high to galliards, spirited dances for two persons often written in triple rhythm, and various other slower, nimble, contrapuntal melodies, some serious, some religious, some whimsical. Of the twenty tracks on the disc, Bull wrote thirteen. The other numbers represent the work of Thomas Tomkins (1572–1656), William Byrd (1543–1623), John Blitheman (c 1525–1591), Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625), and John Redford (d 1547). The interesting thing to note is that none of it sounds as though it comes from the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, at least not as Feinberg plays it. It sounds much later, much more inventive, even Romantic. Bull was, indeed, ahead of his time.

Alan Feinberg’s piano playing is smooth, mellow, dexterous, masterly, and although virtuosic at times, never ostentatious. You could say it’s comfortably cozy and inviting. He allows Bull’s ornamentation to speak for itself while maintaining a firm, flowing grasp of the music. There was no reason for him to have turned this into the Feinberg show; it’s Bull who’s clearly on display throughout. Of course, it might have been fun to hear Mr. Feinberg perform these pieces on an actual, period virginal, but this is, after all, a Steinway & Sons recording so he plays everything on a Steinway Model D grand piano. As Feinberg says above, that was a challenge of adaptation, yet it’s one he obviously overcame with little difficulty. The program and the playing provide something different and something most engaging.

Producer Dan Mercurio and engineer Daniel Shores recorded Basically Bull for Steinway & Sons at Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia in January, 2013. They obtained an excellent piano sound, rich and resonant, with a light hall reflection to enhance the tone. The long decay time means a warmer, mellower, more realistic presence, making the sonics a delight to the audiophile as well as to the casual music lover.

-- Classical Candor

Some albums live up to as well as contradict their titles. One remarkable find from last week’s releases is Basically Bull, Or the adventurous keyboard works of the vexatious Elizabethan composer John Bull, and his contemporaries, the virginalists who invented virtuoso keyboard music, as performed on a Steinway D and recorded one cold winter’s day in Virginia…

This release on the relatively new Steinway & Sons label was recorded by veteran New York City pianist Alan Feinberg, who has made a career of championing the adventurous and obscure—be they of today or the past.

Historical purists will likely frown because Feinberg has harnessed a big, bold modern concert grand piano to perform a task the composer reserved for for the tiny, dainty-sounding, virginal—a lady’s instrument of choice in any well-appointed turn-of-the-17th century English drawing room.

This is Basically Bull. Here is fine music sensitively translated into what is essentially a completely different idiom while still preserving its essential character (a strange and wonderful mix of polyphonic and contrapuntal writing) while making it easy on the modern ear.

Bull (1562/3–1628), along with Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625) and William Byrd (1540–1623), were the three English keyboard pioneers, collecting their groundbreaking little pieces for the virginal into the first published collection of keyboard works, Parthenia, or the Maydenhead of the first musicke that ever was printed for the Virginalls, in 1613.

(The saucy lads named their sequel volume of 1614 Parthenia In-Violata, adding parts for bass viol.)

Besides being a cad chased from England’s shores for his adulterous behaviour, John Bull’s distinction in this great triumvirate is of being the crazy virtuoso, writing in technical demands that no dainty Saturday-night player can hope to master. I think the modern piano actually improves this music, removing the tinkly sound that gets pretty raucous when there are three or four voices moving quickly along the keyboard at the same time.

Also Basically Bull dispels any notion that harmonic and rhythmic invention is a thing of the present. There are examples in any age, going back to Medieval times, and Feinberg has picked some fine examples from circa 1613. The pianist has also included some gems by Bull’s contemporaries, including one of Gibbons’ exquisite Fantasias.

There are 20 pieces in total on the album, each representing a different aspect of the keyboard art of the early 17th century—and all oriented toward making everything sound as musically alluring as possible.

In short, this album is Basically Excellent, not Basically Bull. It could serve as a fine entry into a whole new musical aesthetic for someone not naturally drawn to pieces from this period.

-- Musical Toronto

There’s nothing particularly unusual about playing baroque music on a modern piano—but music of the English Renaissance? That’s pretty bold. Much of this music was written for the virginal, a keyboard instrument whose expressive range was even more limited than that of the later harpsichord, so for Alan Feinberg to interpret them on a grand piano is to undertake a certain amount of artistic risk: will he be able to make tasteful use of the modern piano’s wider capabilities without undermining the essential character of the music? The answer is yes. Feinberg makes judicious and highly musical use of dynamics and rubato, revealing new aspects of these pieces by Bull, William Byrd, Thomas Tomkins, and others, but shows deep respect for the conventions of the period as well. Recommended to all keyboard collections.

-- CD Hotlist

John Bull was the most dazzling keyboardist of Renaissance England, a fact made abundantly clear in the new album “Basically Bull” (Steinway & Sons), by an American lion of the keyboard, Alan Feinberg. But Bull was equally well known for his bad behavior; the Archbishop of Canterbury notoriously opined that Bull was “as famous for the marring of virginity as…for the fingering of organs and virginals.” (Fleeing charges of adultery, he died in exile, in Antwerp in 1628.) For Feinberg, Bull is a classic case of negative capability: the daring of his music is of a piece with his reckless behavior. But the technical innovations in Bull’s works, however brilliant, don’t always make for engaging listening; he is bested in some of Feinberg’s supporting selections, which include two limpid miniatures by Orlando Gibbons and a pair of flawless gems by William Byrd. Yet Bull triumphs in such pieces as “In Nomine V,” a decadently repetitious essay in contrapuntal invention, and in the justly loved “Bull’s Goodnight,” lulling variations on a folk-like tune. Feinberg, transferring all this music from the virginal to the piano, gives it warmth and poetry as well as intellectual rigor.

-- The New Yorker

John Bull was one of the more colorful characters in Elizabethan music, a notorious womanizer who, in 1613, was charged with the crime of adultery and forced to flee to the Netherlands. Much of his music was lost as he was running from the law but what remains is consistently inventive and even experimental. Ironically, the pieces on Alan Feinberg’s new recording were written for the virginal—a piano precursor that chaste young women were expected to play. Feinberg brings these miniatures to life on the modern keyboard, ripping through the runs and unraveling the contrapuntal puzzles of the various pavans, galliards and fantasias.

-- WQXR (New York)

Performances of Renaissance keyboard music on the piano are rarely succesful; they introduce too many extraneous elements into the style, and the music collapses under its own weight. The cheekily titled Basically Bull, which includes music by John Bull and a few other composers of the Elizabethan virginalist school, may be an exception. Bull might be called the Liszt of the English Renaissance, writing virtuoso or otherwise extreme music that seems to try to break through its own boundaries. The effect of hearing the runs in the really difficult pieces, like the Galliard “St Thomas, Wake!” (track 2), played on a piano is fundamentally different from that of a virginal or harpsichord; the effort of achieving the specified speed lends the music a brittle quality. Pianist Alan Feinberg, otherwise a specialist in contemporary music, forges a general interpretation to match these edgy virtuoso moments, using little pedal but a variety of hard attacks that emphasize the harmonic crunches and the daring insistence on the primacy of horizontal lines in Bull’s music. Feinberg succeeds in re-creating the closed-in, somewhat fevered atmosphere of the conclaves of aristocratic music lovers for whom these pieces must originally have been performed, and he is aided in this quest by the engineers of the fine American label Steinway & Sons, which is gradually building a corpus of innovative piano recordings. Working in an unspecified location, they tamp down the piano’s natural resonance and effectively amplify the percussive, intense quality of Feinberg’s playing. Ultimately this album must be considered an experiment, albeit one in keeping with the spirit of Bull’s music, rather than a straightforward performance of these compositions. But it is certainly one that will make you sit up and take notice.

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