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Albertus BRYNE (c1621 - 1668): "Keyboard Music"

Terence Charlton, harpsichorda, organb, spinetc

rec: July 26 - 27, 2006, Weston (Hitchin), Holy Trinity Churchac; Nov 19, 2006, Aldgate, St Botolph'sb
Deux-Elles - DXL 1124 ( 2007) (68'26")

anon: An Almana; The Earle of Oxfordes Gallenea; Towle Towlea; Albertus Bryne: A ground to ye organ or harpsichordb; Sarabanda; Suite in Da; Suite in Da; Suite in Dc; Suite in d minora; Suite in d minora; Suite in Fa; Suite in a minora [1]; Suite in a minora; Toletolea;b; Voluntary in a minorb; John Bull (c1562-1628): Preludiuma; Christopher Gibbons (16150-1676): Verse for ye single organ in Db; Verse in Fb; Voluntary in Ab

(Sources: [1] John Playford, ed, Musicks Hand-maide, 1663/1678)


If you have never heard of an English composer with the name Albertus Bryne also spelled as 'Brian' or 'Bryan' there is no need to be ashamed. I don't think many people have heard of him, except those who have a more than average knowledge of the history of English music. He has an article in New Grove, but to my knowledge none of his works has ever been recorded before. So one can only be grateful to Terence Charlston for not only recording his complete keyboard works, but also for editing and publishing them, which I am sure shall lead to his music being played and recorded in the future. If one looks into the catalogue of available recordings of English keyboard music one will find that the music of the virginalists is very popular, but that Henry Purcell is virtually the only later composer whose keyboard music is regularly performed and recorded. Even distinguished colleagues of his, like John Blow, are mostly ignored. As Bryne was an important link between the virginalists and the composers of the late 17th century one may hope that this recording and the printing of his music will lead to more attention being given to English harpsichord music of the late 17th century.

As so often is the case, the fact that Bryne is an almost unknown quantity today doesn't tell anything about his reputation among his contemporaries. He was described as "that famously velvet fingered organist" and "an excellent musitian". But he had the bad luck to be active during the political upheaval which led to the Commonwealth, and which resulted in him being dismissed from his post as organist at St Paul's, a position he held since 1638 as a successor to his teacher, John Tomkins. He survived the Commonwealth by teaching the keyboard. After the Restoration he returned to his old post, which he lost again in the wake of the Great Fire of 1666. The last two years of his life he worked as organist of Westminster Abbey. When he died in 1668 he was succeeded there by John Blow.

It is probably during the Commonwealth period that most of his keyboard works were written, as they are primarily intended for domestic performance. They were widely appreciated, not only in his own time, but also in the 18th century, as some copies of his music prove. Historically "Bryne's suites occupy a unique position between the 'Golden Age' of the English Virginalists and the highly individual voices of English Baroque at the end of the century", Terence Charlston writes in the booklet. "The musical style and texture of Bryne's suites had a considerable influence on the next generation of composers, especially Blow and Purcell and they illuminate the development of their constituent dances during a period of gradual evolution and growing continental influence." Bryne was one of the first English composers to organise his dances into suites by key. Most suites consist of three dances: almain, corant and saraband. Sometimes the almain is replaced by an ayre, and some suites have an additional fourth movement, a jig almain. "The jig-almain is a curious amalgam of two dance-types the almain and the jig. It is relatively rare in English keyboard music, appearing only for a brief time, and in terms of the keyboard is almost unique to Bryne."

To put Bryne's music into a historical context, music by preceding generations is added: a couple of anonymous pieces as well as compositions by John Bull and by Christopher Gibbons, son of Orlando, and Bryne's predecessor as organist at Westminster Abbey.

In the booklet Terence Charlston states that keyboard music was usually played on any instrument a player had at his disposal. This is reflected by the choice of instruments on this disc. Two different harpsichords are used: copies of a single manual harpsichord by Ioannes Couchet of 1645 and of a double manual harpsichord by Ioannes Ruckers of 1624. In addition he uses a spinet, copied after Charles Haward (c1680) and an organ. The latter was built 1702-04 by Renatus Harris at St Botolph's Aldgate, probably England's oldest surviving church organ. The tuning of all instruments is either 1/6 or 1/4 comma meantone and the pitch varies from a=442 (organ) to a=415.

Some pieces are played more than once, on different instruments and sometimes in slightly different versions. This contributes to the variation in the programme on this disc. But it is first and foremost Bryne's music itself which keeps the listener's attention. This is just excellent music, and it is a great pleasure that it has been put on disc and brought to the attention of music lovers. Terence Charlston is an expert guide and stylish performer. The recording quality is first-class, and so are the programme notes by Mr Charlston. The booklet also contains all the relevant information regarding the instruments, tuning, pitch as well as the number of every individual piece in the upcoming edition. I strongly recommend this disc of so far unjustly neglected repertoire.

Johan van Veen ( 2007)

Relevant links:

Terence Charlston


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