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Sweelinck for Harpsichord

available at Amazon
J. P. Sweelinck, Fortune My Foe (Works for harpsichord), A. Rotaru

(released on November 16, 2010)
Carpe Diem CD-16281 | 77'40"
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), after making a career as an organist and composer of vocal music, acquired a Ruckers harpsichord in 1604. Although Sweelinck had succeeded his father in his position as a church organist, the organ had been banned in his native Amsterdam's Calvinist churches soon after. Harpsichordist Alina Rotaru, born in Bucharest and trained in Germany, plays a selection of the composer's works for harpsichord, on an instrument built by Fred Bettenhausen in Haarlem, with a Ruckers instrument as model. The selection of pieces, which are available on other recordings, is intended to provide a sort of tombeau for Sweelinck, drawing together his youthful triumphs (like the brilliant Fantasia chromatica) and expressions of the regrets of of old age (like the transcription of Dowland's famous Pavana Lachrymae, recorded in the video embedded below), artful renderings of simple dances and secular songs, as well as of weightier pieces like Engelse Fortuin, a setting of the "hanging tune" Fortune, my foe, often played at executions.

The disc closes with pieces by Sweelinck's contemporaries, including one extremely chromatic tribute to Sweelinck, Fantazia op de Fuga van M. J. P., made by John Bull upon hearing of Sweelinck's death in 1621 (here the harpsichord's temperament can curl your hair with all those half-steps). The sound is particularly satisfying (production by Jonas Niederstadt), capturing in vivid detail most of the core of the harpsichord's sound without too much of the clattering action. Birds can be heard outside the St. Johannis-Kirche in Arenshorst, Germany, singing in the silences, in the somber Ach Gott von Himmel sieh darein, a setting of a chorale of particularly Protestant fervor (the choice by the Catholic Sweelinck perhaps showing his malleable loyalty), among many other tracks. Rotaru has an accomplished, rather active, even flashy style of playing, heard in the crisp repeated notes, dotted groupings, and divisions of Mein junges Leben hat ein End', for example. While this disc is not an easy one to recommend except for fans of the harpsichord, it is no surprise to learn that it has been nominated for the 2011 MIDEM “International Classical Music Award” in the Early Music category.


Dougl v G. said...

Is it me, or was Sweelinck's fantasia chromatica totally ripped off by Willow Smith in her "I Whip My Hair Back and Forth"? Lucky for her the Sweelinck is now in the public domain.

Charles T. Downey said...

I had no idea what this was, so I went to the encyclopedia of popular culture -- Youtube -- to watch a video. I have to say that I do not hear any Sweelinck. I would love to see a learned analysis of the similarities.