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Johann Adam REINCKEN (c1640 - 1722): "Toccatas, Partitas & Suites"

Clément Geoffroy, harpsichord

rec: Dec 27 - 29, 2017, Strasbourg, Eglise Sainte-Aurélie
Encelade - ECL 1705 (© 2018) (73'12")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Sebastian BACH (1650-1750): Prelude in C (after Reincken) (BWV 966); Johann Adam REINCKEN: Ballet, Partite diverse; Fugue in g minor (attr); Holländische Nachtigall; Schweiget mir vom Weiber nehmen, oder: Die Meierin, Partite diverse; Suite in C; Suite in a minor (attr); Toccata in A; Toccata in g minor (attr)

One thing every performer of early music has to deal with, is the fact that some music has been preserved without the name of the composer or that pieces are attributed to different composers in various sources. That is also the case here: the present disc is presented as a programme of keyboard music by Johann Adam Reincken, but several pieces are of doubtful authenticity.

Reincken was an important man in Hamburg, where he lived and worked for most of his life. He was active as one of the town's organists, but only a few organ works have come down to us. Two chorale fantasias are definitely intended for the organ, whereas some free organ works (toccatas, fugue) can be played either at the organ or on the harpsichord. In addition there are eight suites and three sets of variations which are written for the harpsichord or other strung keyboard instruments.

Clément Geoffroy opens his programme with a piece which has been attributed to several composers, but is now, thanks to research of the musicologist Pieter Dirksen, generally considered to be from Reincken's pen. The Toccata in A is a typical example of pieces as they were written by members of the North-German organ school. It is based on the stylus phantasticus, which had its origins in Italy. It comprises several sections of a contrasting character. Some are of an improvisatory nature, others are dominated by imitative polyphony, including fugal episodes. In the improvisatory sections one notes the brilliance for which the organists of northern Germany were famous.

Next follows the first set of variations. The Ballet in C is called partite, the then usual term for a sequence of variations. The theme is followed by eleven variations, some of which are brilliant, others more introverted and intimate. Holländische Nachtigall is a rather short piece: variations on a tune which has become best known in the variations for recorder of Jacob van Eyck (Engels nachtegaeltje). Much larger and more ambitious is the set of variations known as Schweiget mir vom Weiber nehmen, also known as Die Meyerin. It was printed in Amsterdam around 1710 in a collection which also includes VI Suites. Reincken's variations are not very different from those suites, as they are also written in the form of dances. That was not uncommon: Buxtehude did the same in his chorale variations on Auf meinen lieben Gott. The song which Reincken used for his variations was introduced by Johann Jakob Froberger. He was also the one who established the standard form of the suite: allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. This is the form Reincken follows in his Suite in C. It is notable that here there is thematic similarity between the four dances, which lends this piece a kind of coherence.

The other works in the programme are of doubtful authenticity. Geoffroy tends to think that the Suite in a minor may be from the pen of Johann Pachelbel. It is included in the same collection as Reincken's variations on Schweiget mir vom Weiber nehmen. The publisher, Estienne Roger, does not give the names of the composers. The Toccata and the Fugue in g minor are connected here, but are in fact separate pieces. They could well be written by different composers. Even so, there is a strong stylistic similarity between them, and playing them as if they belong together makes much sense. The toccata is again written in the stylus phantasticus.

Johann Adam Reincken was highly esteemed in his time, and the young Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the composers who was influenced by him. He visited Hamburg in 1720 and played in Reincken's presence. Before that he had already become acquainted with music by the old master, including his only collection of instrumental music, published as Hortus Musicus in 1688. Bach transcribed some of these partitas - scored for two violins, viola da gamba and basso continuo - for harpsichord, among them the third in C. It is incomplete, and Geoffroy only plays the prelude.

This disc offers more and less than one would expect on the basis of its title. Because of the inclusion of a number of pieces of doubtful authenticity it cannot be called an introduction to the art of Reincken. However, there is much stylistic coherence within the programme, and therefore it gives a good impression of the keyboard style in northern Germany, of which Reincken was such a brilliant exponent.

I am very happy with the way Clément Geoffroy performs his programme. He has an impressive technique which he uses in the interest of an expressive and imaginative performance of the pieces he has selected. The improvisatory traits in the various pieces, especially the toccatas, comes off perfectly. He is not afraid to take some freedom, also in his ornamentation. The tempi are well chosen: some are very fast, such as the Fugue in g minor, but especially in the sets of variations and the suites there are also some wonderful slow sections. He has chosen a very fine instrument for his recital: a modern copy of an instrument by Ruckers, one of the most famous harpsichord makers of the 17th century. Its brilliant sound perfectly suits Reincken's music.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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