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"Tears - Harpsichord Laments of the Seventeenth Century"

Ewald Demeyere, virginala, harpsichordb

rec: Oct 24 - 25, 2012, Mol, Galaxy Studios
Challenge Classics - CC72617 (© 2013) (57'33")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

William BYRD (c1540-1623): Lachrymae Pavan (MB 54)a; Louis COUPERIN (c1626-1661): Suite in Fb; Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667): Fantasia in a minor (FbWV 206)b; Partita in C (FbWV 612)b; Melchior SCHILDT (1592/93-1667): Paduana Lagrimaa; Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656): A Sad Pavan for these Distracted Tymesa

When in 1986 the renowned Holland Festival Early Music - as it was called at the time - celebrated its fifth anniversary it did so by devoting a part of its programme to "sad music". The reason was simple: sad music ranks among the most beautiful ever written. Among them are Requiems (Victoria, Mozart), settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah - both from the renaissance and the baroque era - and all sorts of pieces which were written at the occasion of the death of an individual. The present disc offers some of such pieces written for keyboard.

The name of John Dowland will always be connected first and foremost to a single piece, Lachrimae, first conceived as a lute piece, and then arranged as a pavan for a consort of viols and as a lute song. It disseminated across Europe which resulted in many arrangements of various kinds. Ewald Demeyere opens and closes his programme, properly entitled "Tears", with two of such arrangements or transcriptions, by William Byrd and Melchior Schildt respectively.

Dowland took the form of the pavan, and that was most appropriate considering the character of this court dance. Thomas Morley defined the pavan as "a kind of staid music, ordained for grave dancing (...)." William Byrd takes some freedom towards the original, especially in regard to rhythm, and that lends his arrangement a kind of improvisational character. In comparison Schildt's arrangement is closer to the original. However, the difference could also be due to the fact that Byrd took the lute version as his starting point, whereas Schildt seems to have based his Paduana Lagrima on the version for viol consort.

In the centre of the programme we find another piece from the English renaissance, not connected this time to Dowland's Lachrimae but with a comparable character. Unlike Dowland's piece which doesn't reflect a specific event but rather is an expression of a fashion of his time, called melancholy, Thomas Tomkins'A sad pavan for these distracted tymes is about real life. In 1649 the monarchy came to an end with the beheading of Charles I. Tomkins composed this piece shortly after that event. He had every reason to be sad: three years before his career as an organist had come to an end when he lost his position as organist of Worcester Cathedral. This was the consequence of the city surrendering to the Parliamentary forces, and cathedral services being almost completely discontinued.

During the 17th century many pieces of a sad nature were written. Among them are lamentos with a sacred or secular content, the latter especially as part of operas. Such pieces are not necessarily the expression of the personal feelings of the composer. That seems to be different with the lamento which opens Johann Jacob Froberger's Partita VI: Lamento sopra la dolorosa perdita della Real M.stá di Ferdinando IV. For many years Froberger was organist at the imperial court in Vienna, and this piece is written at the occasion of the sudden death of Ferdinand III's son and successor in 1654. This lamento which ends with an ascending line depicting Ferdinand IV's ascension to heaven, is followed by three 'conventional' dance movements which are a fixed part of Froberger's keyboard suites: gigue, courant and sarabande. However, Demeyere rightly argues that they are not very different in character from the lamento. There is no indication that the Fantasia VI was written for a special occasion, but its character justifies its inclusion in this programme. It opens with an ascending minor sixth, just like the aria 'Erbarme dich' from Bach's St Matthew Passion.

The opening motif of this piece returns in the prélude which opens the Suite in F by Louis Couperin. This is a prélude non mesuré which lends it an improvisatory character which is another factor that it fits the programme. The same goes for the ensuing allemande grave. The suite ends with an example of a genre which was popular in France: the tombeau. The Tombeau de Mr de Blancrocher was written at the occasion of the death of Charles Fleury, Sieur de Blancrocher, a lutenist who died in November 1652 following a fall down a flight of stairs. Froberger also composed a tombeau for him. It needs to be added that this Suite in F is not put together by Couperin: Demeyere assembled the pieces from his oeuvre - something which was expected from performers at the time.

This is a compelling programme of some of the finest keyboard pieces from the 17th century. Ewald Demeyere plays two different instruments: a 'mother and child' virginal, copied after models by Andreas Ruckers, and the copy of a harpsichord by an anonymous, probably Austrian, builder from around 1680. I probably would have liked a French instrument in Louis Couperin, but it is certainly the suitable instrument for Froberger.

Demeyere's tempi are mostly slow, and that seems appropriate for a programme like this. But sometimes they are a little too slow as some pieces are in danger of falling apart. Demeyere doesn't always manage to keep the flow of the music. That is also due to the miking which is too close for comfort. One can hear every detail which is nice but the complete picture remains sometimes a little in the dark.

These factors make me recommend this disc only with some reservation.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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Ewald Demeyere

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