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"Cromatica - The art of moving souls"

Marcin Swiatkiewicz, harpsichord

rec: Nov 7 - 8, 2015, Katowice, Henryk Mikolaj Górecki Silesian Philharmonic
CPO - 555 142-2 (© 2017) (73'38")
Liner-notes: E/D/P
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sebastián Ramón DE ALBERO Y AÑAÑOS (1722-1756): Recercata V in c minor; anon Toccata in a minor; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Chromatic fantasia and fugue in d minor (BWV 903); John BULL (c1562-1628): Chromatic Pavan & Galliard; Jean-Baptiste-Antoine FORQUERAY (1699-1782): Suite No. 4 in g minor (La Marella); Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667): Toccata II in d minor (FbWV 102); Elisabeth JACQUET DE LA GUERRE (1665-1729): Suite No. 2 in g minor (prélude); Tarquinio MERULA (c1595-1665): Capriccio cromatico; Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): L'Enharmonique; Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757): Sonata in c minor (K 58); Antonio SOLER (1729-1783): Fandango in d minor (R 146); Emanuell SONCINO (c1600-c1660): Cromatica; Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621): Fantasia cromatica (SwWV 258)

Sources: Johann Jacob Froberger, Libro secondo di toccate, fantasie, canzone, allemande, courante, sarabande, gigue et altre partite, 1649; Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Pièces de clavessin, 1687; Przemysl Tablature, c1700 Sebastián Ramón de Albero y Añaños, Obras para clavicordio o piano forte, ms [n.d.]; Jean-Philippe Rameau, Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin, 1728; Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Forqueray, Pieces de Viole, Composées par Mr Forqueray Le Pere, Mises en Pieces de Clavecin par Mr Forqueray Le Fils, 1747

When a disc bears the title Cromatica one knows what to expect. It is derived from the piece which opens the present disc, written by a certain Emanuell Soncino, about whom nothing is known. Despite his Italian name, this and one other piece from his pen are preserved in an English collection of manuscripts from the early 17th-century. It is an extreme example of the use of chromaticism, which was especially popular in the 17th century.

That was a time of harmonic experiments. One of the pioneers of the use of chromaticism was Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa, who used it frequently in his last two books of madrigals. However, he was not the only one in his time: other composers of madrigals of his and the previous generation also applied it, albeit less frequently. The subtitle of this disc indicates that chromaticism was used with a purpose: the expression of specific affetti, which was one of the features of the seconda prattica which emerged in Italy around 1600 and was soon embraced in other parts of Europe, especially in Germany. Italian composers travelled north and contributed to the dissemination of the new style. An anonymous Toccata in a minor is found in a Polish tablature and Marcin Swiatkiewicz, in his liner-notes, suggests that the composer may have met Tarquinio Merula, who in the 1620s was employed by King Sigismund III Vasa in Warsaw. Merula was one of the exponents of the stile nuovo and his cromatico is one of his best-known works. It is certainly true, as Swiatkiewicz writes, that in the 17th and 18th centuries chromaticism was a rhetorical device. However, one cannot exclude the possibility that some composers applied it as an end in itself, as a way to explore the harmonic system and various tunings. The creation of harpsichords with more than 14 keys also points in that direction.

The programme is divided into two sections. For each of them Swiatkiewicz uses a different harpsichord. For the tracks 1 to 7 (Soncino to Sweelinck) he plays an instrument, built by Detmar Hungerberg in 2012, which is based on early 17th-century Italian models. It has a short octave and split sharps (d-sharp/e-flat and g-sharp/a-flat), and is in meantone temperament. Whether that instrument is the most appropriate is a matter of debate. As we don't know Soncino's identity it is hard to say what kind of instrument suits him best. Froberger was a pupil of Frescobaldi, but that does not mean that an Italian instrument is the ideal tool for his oeuvre. The main problem seems John Bull, as Swiatkiewicz acknowledges. "The note E sharp (enharmonically equivalent to an F) appears near the end of the Galliard. It is used as an argument for a well-tempered, or at least a non-meantone, enharmonic tuning system. Most likely, Bull did not have access to instruments with more than 14 notes within the octave. It also doesn't seem that the composer cares for the particularly dissonant effect of using the note F tuned in meantone temperament. For that reason, I made the anachronistic decision, but in line with contemporary recording possibilities, to record the phrase containing the E sharp after retuning the harpsichord. It is highly possible that the performance of these works on an Italian instrument tuned in the conventional meantone temperament is far removed from the composers' intention. But fortunately, copyright laws are a relatively new invention."

I find this very odd. "[It] might have been possible to find instruments that could fulfill the criteria of so called authenticity much better. However, historical accuracy and historically informed performance is not my goal; it is rather a tool - a very useful element in my workshop." The last statement is no contradiction to the first - on the contrary. Historical 'accuracy' - if ever that is possible - is the best way to reveal the real features of a composition. This also is true for the second half of the programme. Here Swiatkiewicz plays an instrument, built in 2008 by Christian Fuchs after a Ruckers of 1624. Such instruments were known in France, although they were often the subject of a ravalement, an alteration and extension of the disposition and range. For the three French items this instrument seems appropriate, but probably far less so for Albero, Scarlatti and Soler. Bach also would fare better on a different instrument.

The choice of these particular instruments for the entire programme may be subject to criticism, there is nothing wrong with Swiatkiewicz's performances - on the contrary. I have greatly enjoyed his playing, which is crisp and clear. He explores the contrasts within single pieces to the full, for instance in Froberger's Toccata II in d minor. Two chromatic masterworks, Sweelinck's Fantasia chromatica and Bach's Chromatic fantasia and fugue, receive splendid performances. In Soler's Fandango Swiatkiewicz manages to keep the listener's attention through a differentiated interpretation. Albero's Recercata V is a rather bizarre piece, with an amount of chromaticism, which one expects from a 17th-century composer rather than one from the mid-18th century. It receives here a much more incisive performance than in the recording of Alejandro Casal, which I reviewed recently.

Despite a debatable choice of instruments, this is definitely a disc every lover of early keyboard music should add to his collection. The programme is quite original and includes many pieces which in their very own way don't fail to intrigue.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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Marcin Swiatkiewicz

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