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CD reviews

Jacob van Eyck & Constantijn Huygens

[I] Jacob VAN EYCK (c1590 - 1657): Der Fluyten Lust-Hof
François Lazarevitch, recorder, transverse flute, musette
rec: July & August 2020, Bever (B), Rosario
Alpha - 558 (© 2021) (72'56")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Amarilli mia bella; Batali; Blydschap van mijn vliedt; Boffons; Bravade; Doen Daphne d'oover schoone Maeght; Een schots Lietjen; Een Spaense Voys; Engels Nachtegaeltje; Fantasia & Echo; Janneman en Alemoer; Laura; Malle Symen; O Heyligh zaligh Bethlehem; Pavane Lachryme; Praeludium Ofte Voorspel; Prins Robert Masco; Psalm 9; Repicavan; Si vous me voules guerir; Stil stil een reys; Wat zalmen op den Avond doen

Sources: Der Fluyten Lust-Hof, 1644

[II] Constantijn HUYGENS (1596 - 1687): Pathodia sacra et profana
Cyril Auvity, tenor; Myriam Rignol, viola da gamba; Marie Van Rhijn, harpsichord, lute-harpsichord, organ
rec: May 31 - Jume 2, 2019, Vézélay, Cité de la Voix
Glossa - GCD 926303 (© 2020) (69'35")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Jacques Champion DE CHAMBONNIÈRES (c1601/02-1672): Jeunes Zéphirs (doubles: Jean-Henry D'ANGLEBERT, 1629-1691); Constantijn HUYGENS: A dispetto de' venti; Allemande; Amor secreto; Avertisti faciem; Caccia amorosa; Che rumore sento fuore; Con la candida man; De profundis Dilataverunt super me; Domine Deus meus; Già ti chiesi un sospir; Graves tesmoins de mes délices; In quo corriget; Laetatus sum; Le Réveil de Calliste; Multi dicunt animae meae; Ne crains point le serein; Quare tristis es; Que ferons nous; Quoy Clorinde tu pars; Sospiro della sua donna; Tu te trompes, Phillis; Va, donna ingrata; Vous me l'aviez bien dit; Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667): Toccata V in e minor; Luigi ROSSI (c1597/98-1653): Passacaille in a minor

Sources: Constantijn Huygens, Pathodia sacra et profana occupati, 1647

The musical landscape of the Netherlands in the 17th century was quite different from that in other parts of Europe. There were no royal or aristocratic courts with their own musical establishments. The dominant church, the Reformed Church, did not need motets, sacred concertos or cantatas, as the musical part of services was confined to the congretion's singing rhymed Psalms, at first unaccompanied, later with the support of an organ. Most music was performed in domestic surroundings or during social gatherings. Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck performed his polyphonic settings of Psalms from the Huguenot Psalter with a group of amateur singers in Amsterdam. Vocal music was written for solo voice(s), with or without instruments, instrumental music was scored for single instruments, with or without basso continuo. Such pieces can be found in the collections that were published under the title of 't Uitnemend Kabinet. Obviously, that was music intended for amateurs. That does not mean that all music was simple and technically undemanding. As music played a major part in everyday life, and was a part of the education of members of the higher echelons of society, one should not underestimate the technical skills of the amateurs of those days.

Jacob van Eyck's Der Fluyten Lust-Hof is a case in point. Van Eyck was a brilliant player of the recorder and the carillon, and the pieces included in this collection are often quite challenging for performers, even the professionals of today. There was no market for music which could only be played by professional performers, and from that we have to conclude that the technical level of amateurs was considerable. The recorder was one of their favourite instruments - just like in other parts of Europe - and in other collections of music one also finds many pieces for it. However, composers were pragmatic: they took into account that not everyone had access to the instrument(s) for which they conceived their music, and in order to increase sale, they had to make sure that it could be played on different instruments. That is the case with Van Eyck's collection as well. The title-page mentions that these pieces can also be played on other instruments than the recorder, and François Lazarevitch has taken this as an opportunity to use several instruments: the recorder in soprano and alto pitch, the transverse flute in various pitches, from treble to baritone, as well as the musette.

The repertoire is varied. We find here diminutions on then popular tunes, many of which were known and used for arrangements across Europe (Amarilli mia bella, Pavane Lachryme, Doen Daphne d'oover schoone Maeght), sometimes with different titles. There are also variations on tunes of a more regional character, such as the melodies of the Huguenot (or Genevan) Psalter, almost only known among Protestants in the Netherlands, France and Switzerland. In this respect Der Fluyten Lust-Hof is a kind of sampling of what was performed across Europe.

There are some curious pieces among those that Lazarevitch selected. One of them is Fantasia & Echo, in which phrases are repeated piano; the echo technique was very popular at the time, and often used by Italian composers, for instance in opera. Although all the pieces are monophonic, in some polyphony is suggested through a quick succession of notes at different pitches. Prins Robert Masco is a brilliant example. The most curious piece is probably Batali; it is quite astonishing how Van Eyck manages to illustrate a battle with a single instrument. We find here the typical musical figures of battaglias, in particular the repeated notes. Van Eyck includes some variations on the then common version of Wilhelmus van Nassouwe, today the Netherlands' national anthem.

There is no lack of recordings of pieces from Van Eyck's Der Fluyten Lust-Hof, but this one is especially interesting for the use of other instruments than recorders. Lazarevitch shows that these pieces can perfectly be performed on other instruments. He has made extensive study of performance practices common in the 17th century, for instance with regard of phrasing and ornamentation, and looked for singing techniques in order to get the articulation right. The result is a highly compelling and entertaining recital. Even if you have several discs with Van Eyck's music, this disc deserves a place in your collection.

The second disc is devoted to Constantijn Huygens, one of the major figures in the Netherlands of the 17th century. He was a true uomo universale: a public servant and diplomat, poet, playwright, composer and player of several instruments, in particular the viola da gamba and the lute. He had many contacts among the intellectual, artistic and musical élite of his time, and composers dedicated some of their works to him. Among them were Johann Jakob Froberger, Luigi Rossi, Henry du Mont and Antoine Boësset. He corresponded with philosophers and theorists, such as Descartes and Mersenne. He wrote poems in Dutch, Latin, French and Italian.

Some of his skills come to the fore in the only collection of his music that has been preserved. The twenty Psalms in Latin, twelve Italian arie and seven French airs included in his Pathodia sacra et profana and a few separate pieces in manuscript that have come down to us, represent a small portion of the apparently around 800 pieces that he may have written. The pieces in the Pathodia are for a solo voice and basso continuo. The fact that the book was published by Robert Ballard in Paris in 1647 attests to Huygens's international stature. These pieces are entirely in line with what was common at the time. The Latin texts guaranteed that the settings of verses from Psalms were accessible across Europe. The Italian arie are stylistically not any different from what was written in Italy at the time, and the same goes for the French airs, which show Huygens's mastery of the then popular genre of the air de cour. It is assumed that the texts of the secular pieces are from his own pen.

To date this collection has been recorded complete only twice. The first recording dates from the vinyl era, with a surprisingly good Elly Ameling (who hardly played a role in the historical performance practice) and Max van Egmond. Unfortunately that recording has never been reissued on CD. The second dates from 2000; I have not heard all of it, but on the basis of what I did hear it is a bit uneven in quality. Many discs include pieces from this collection, but a complete new recording would not be amiss. The disc under review here offers eight Psalms, eight arie and all seven airs. The performances by Cyril Auvity are generally very good. I like his voice and his style of singing, despite a slight vibrato that makes itself heard now and then. However, I find his interpretation not always convincing. In some pieces he opts for a quite theatrical approach, such as in A dispetto de' venti. The text seems to urge for such a way of performing: "In spite of winds, of thundering and lightening, I vent the pain that tears my breast". However, this is chamber music, no opera, and not intended to be sung on the stage. A more restrained approach seems to be a more logical option. In some Psalms he chooses a rather slow tempo; in some cases I found it unnaturally slow. His ornamentation is stylish, but in the Psalms he is sometimes too economical. In several cases I felt that he should have added more.

The line-up of the basso continuo is different according to the genre of the pieces. In the Psalms Marie van Rhijn plays the organ, in the secular pieces the harpsichord. That is a bit artificial: the Psalms are not intended for a performance at the church, and therefore the harpsichord would have been appropriate as well. The participation of a lute-harpsichord is questionable. This instrument seems an invention of the 18th century. The article on this instrument in New Grove does not include any indication that it was known in the 17th century. Considering that in this kind of music plucked instruments were often used, I would have liked the participation of a theorbo. The Latin texts are pronounced in the French manner, which seems right. Given that here the performers have opted for a historical approach, it is rather surprising that in the French texts Auvity uses a modern pronunciation.

As one may have gathered, this recording does raise some questions, and is not entirely convincing. That said, the overall level of the performances is such that it is a meaningful addition to the recordings of Huygens's music.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

Marie Van Rhijn
Myriam Rignol

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