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VAN NOORDT Family: "Opera omnia"

Gerard de Wit, harpsichorda, organb; Vocal ensemblec; Dutch Baroque Orchestra Soloists

rec: June 2017, Zwijndrecht, Oude Kerk
Dutch Baroque Records - [no number] (3 CDs) (© 2017) (3.16'40")
Liner-notes: NL; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list
Scores Anthoni van Noordt
Scores Sybrandt van Noordt
Scores 't Uitnemend Kabinet (Jacob van Noordt)

Anthoni VAN NOORDT (c1619-1675): Fantasia I in d minorb; Fantasia II in d minorb; Fantasia III in e minora; Fantasia IV in e minorb; Fantasia V in Cb; Fantasia VI in Ga; Psalm 2b; Psalm 6b; Psalm 7b; Psalm 15b; Psalm 22b; Psalm 24b; Psalm 38b; Psalm 50b; Psalm 116b; Psalm 119b
Jacob VAN NOORDT (c1616-1680): Frere Frapard; Malle Symend; Petit Branle No. 1d; Petit Branle No. 2d; Petit Branle No. 3d; Petit Branle No. 4d; Petit Branle No. 5d; Repicavan
Sybrandt VAN NOORDT (1659-1705): Sonata a cimbalo solo in a minora; Sonata for recorder and bc in Fadf; Sonata for violin and bcaef; Sonate per il cimbalo appropriate al flauto & violinob

Claude LE JEUNE (1528/30-1600): Oh! Que c'est chose belle, canonc; Pseaume 2: Pourquoy font bruit et s'assemblent les gens/[Ze spreken 'tzaam: Laat ons breken met een]c; Pseaume 6: Ne veuilles pas, ô Sire/[Wil mij niet straffen Heere]c; Pseaume 7: Mon Dieu, j'ai en toi esperance/[God op wien ik hoop met verlangen]c; Pseaume 22: Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, pourquoy m'as tu lassé/[Waarom verlaat Gij mij, mijn God, mijn Heer]c; Pseaume 24: [De aard is onzes God voorwaar]c; Pseaume 38: Las! En la fureur aiguë/[Wil in uwen toorn gestadig]c; Pseaume 50: Le Dieu le fort, l'Eternel parlera/[God, die der Goden Heer is, spreken zal]c; Pseaume 116: [Ik heb den Heer lief, want Hij heeft verhoord]c; Pseaume 119: Bien-heureuse est la personne qui vit/[De zulken zijn niet boos maar wijs en vroed]c

Sources: Claude Le Jeune, Pseaumes de David a 3 parties, 1602 / Psalmen Davids met den Hollandsen text Petrus Dathenus, op 4 stemmen, 1665; Paulus Matthysz, 't Uitnemend Kabinet, Tweede Deel, 1649; Antoni van Noordt, Tabulatuur-boeck van psalmen en fantasyen, 1659; Sybrandt van Noordt, Opera prima, c1700

Johannette Zomer, soprano; Peter de Groot, alto; William Knight, tenor; Jasper Schweppe, baritone
Johanneke de Wit, recorderd; Yotam Gaton, violine; Anne-Linde Visser, cello piccolof

The production which is the subject of this review is devoted to a musical dynasty. In comparison with other such dynasties the Van Noordt family was rather modest in size and stature. As far as we know only three members of this family left any music, and just one of them has become more or less well-known. However, the output of Anthoni van Noordt comprises exclusively one collection of keyboard music, including ten arrangements of Psalms and six fantasias. As the former are based on melodies of the Genevan Psalter, they are not often played outside those countries, where these melodies are known, especially the Netherlands, where the Van Noordt's lived and worked.

The first-known musical member of the family is Sybrandus, who was organist and schoolteacher in Schagen in the north of the Province Holland. He moved to Amsterdam in 1630, where he worked again as a schoolteacher. In 1642 he was appointed carillonneur at one of the towers. Jacob was his eldest son, who was first organist in Arnhem and returned to Amsterdam in 1637 to take the position of organist at the Nieuwezijdskapel. In 1652 he succeeded Dirk Janszoon Sweelink, son of Jan Pieterszoon, as organist of the Oude Kerk. In the Nieuwezijdskapel he was succeeded by his younger brother Anthoni, who in 1664 was given the same post at the Nieuwe Kerk. When Jacob died, his position at the Oude Kerk was taken by his son Sybrandt.

The largest part of this production is devoted to the keyboard music of Anthoni van Noordt. His arrangements of Psalms from the Huguenot Psalter were not intended to be used during worship. For most of the 17th century the congregation sang without any accompaniment. As a result the quality of singing was abominable, as the poet and playwright Constantijn Huygens eloquently expressed. Gradually the ecclesiastical authorities allowed the use of the organ during Sunday services. However, in Amsterdam this happened only after Van Noordt's death. As an organist he was not in the service of the church, but of the city council. It was part of his duties to play the organ during weekdays, especially on market days. Like Sweelinck he certainly improvised on Psalm melodies, which had also a pedagogical function: this way the listeners became acquainted with the melodies of the Psalter. When Van Noordt published his Tabulatuur-boeck, he dedicated it to the town's magistrates.

The Psalm variations and fantasias are notated in a tablature of a special kind, known as Anglo-Dutch notation, and comparable with the tablature used for a six-choir lute: the notes to be played by the hands are distributed over two six-line staves; with two exceptions the pedal notes are printed under the lower staff in German organ tablature. Van Noordt selected ten Psalms, which he seems to have ordered according to a specific plan. The book opens with Psalm 15: "Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?" The last Psalm is 24, whose verses 3 and 4 say: "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? and who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath cleane hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lift up his soule unto vanitie, nor sworne deceitfully." For that reason Gerard de Wit decided to keep the order in the book intact.

Psalm 15 is the shortest, and comprises just one verse. The others consist of several verses, from three (for instance Psalm 2) to eight (Psalm 119). The number of voices varies from two to four. Every variation is based on a cantus firmus, which is either in the soprano or the bass; only in four verses the melody is in the tenor. It is probably not too far-fetched to see here the pedagogical aspect of these works: the melody is most easily recognizable if it is in either the upper or the lowest part. There is no indication that there is a specific connection between a variation and a particular stanza of a Psalm. Therefore it does not matter that much which one is chosen to be sung between the various variations.

The latter practice is one of the interesting aspects of this recording. Van Noordt's Tabulatuur-boeck has been recorded complete before, by Peter Ouwerkerk and Cees van der Poel (Naxos, 1999), but here these pieces are put in their historical perspective. The performers did not make an attempt to reconstruct, as it were, the way the Psalms were sung during worship. Considering the bad quality of congregational singing, nobody would like to hear that. Here a vocal ensemble of four professional singers performs polyphonic arrangements by Claude Le Jeune, who was one of the most prominent composers in France in the second half of the 16th century. His enjoyed the protection of aristocrats and of King Henri IV which made him survive the many trials and tribulations of his time, which were caused by the religious conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism. Le Jeune was a Huguenot by conviction and probably wrote a 'confession of faith' in which he rejected the doctrines of the Catholic Church. In September 1600 he was buried in the Protestant cemetery of La Trinité in Paris. His Psalm settings were well known in the Netherlands and found an enthusiastic reception among the higher echelons of society. In 1635 an edition of these pieces was printed in the Netherlands, and in the 1660s two editions were printed with a Dutch text. The latter was from the pen of Petrus Dathenus, and despite its relatively poor poetic quality these texts were generally used in the Netherlands until the late 18th century (and in some churches they are still sung).

This practice of polyphonic psalm singing in domestic circles connects Van Noordt's arrangements with the music which is brought together on the third disc. Firstly, we get here the six fantasias by Anthoni van Noordt. As they are included in the Tabulatuur-boeck they are mostly played at the organ (as in the Naxos recordings), and that is certainly legitimate. Remember that Van Noordt played mainly on weekdays, and he may have played such works, alongside his Psalm arrangements. However, domestic music making was very popular in the Netherlands. It is documented that Sweelinck often improvised variations on popular tunes in the homes of the upper class, and performed his polyphonic Psalm settings (on French texts) with skilled amateur singers among these social circles. From that perspective Gerard de Wit is certainly right in performing some of these fantasias at the harpsichord.

The chamber music recorded here also bears witness to the importance of domestic music making. One of the main sources of instrumental music was the collection ’t Uitnemend Kabinet, a two-volume collection of two and three-part instrumental music from Germany, France, Italy, and Holland, published by Paulus Matthysz in Amsterdam (1646 and 1649). The second volume includes nine pieces for recorder solo by Jacob van Noordt, one of them variations on the popular tune Malle Sijmen, which Sweelinck also took as the subject of keyboard variations.

Lastly we hear some chamber music from the pen of Sybrandt van Noordt, the son of Jacob. Around 1701 he published his Sonate per il cimbalo appropriate al flauto & violino. It includes four sonatas: one for harpsichord and one each for violin and recorder with basso continuo. The fourth sonata is a reworking of the violin sonata for two violins and bc. Gerard de Wit decided to transcribe it for organ.

This production is important for several reasons. Firstly, we get here a complete picture of the members of the Van Noordt family. They played a relatively modest role in musical life in the Netherlands in the 17th century, but as we have not that much information about the activity of composers and performing musicians from that period, their contributions have to be valued. The chamber music is representative of what was played in the homes of the upper classes. Secondly, the connection between the Psalm arrangements by Anthoni van Noordt and the vocal settings by Le Jeune puts them into a historical perspective. It was a particularly nice gesture to sing some of them in the Dutch version of Dathenus. His versifications aer often referred to, but very few people actually know them. They give us an interesting insight in the spiritual life of the Dutch Protestants at the time. Thirdly, the organ played here is not really identical with the instrument Van Noordt played for most of his life, but comes pretty close. It is one of the main historical organs in the Netherlands, and is excellently suited to this repertoire.

Gerard de Wit is a pupil of Ton Koopman, and that shows, but he avoids some of his teacher's excentricities, for instance in the ornamentation department. His interpretations of the Psalm arrangements are vocally-oriented: they are breathing, with natural accents and articulation. The registrations are well chosen, and there is some good variety in the choice of stops. The accompaniment of the singing is also imaginative. The four singers deliver fine performances; their voices blend very well. One could question the acoustic; the vocal pieces are included from the perspective of domestic music making, and from that angle the large reverberation is less appropriate. On the other hand, a constant change of acoustic is also not desirable. The chamber music does not cause that kind of problems, and here I would have preferred a more intimate acoustic. The performances are excellent, though, and do full justice to the character and quality of these pieces.

It is a bit disappointing that the booklet is only in Dutch. Gerard de Wit probably assumed that only Dutch music lovers may be interested in the music of the members of the Van Noordt family. There is no reason for such modesty. This is a major release, of great importance not only for Dutch music lovers, but for anyone who likes to broaden his musical horizon and is willing to become acquainted with largely unknown repertoire.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Gerard de Wit
Dutch Baroque Orchestra

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