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"Melancholy Grace"

Jean Rondeau, harpsichorda, polygonal virginalb

rec: Oct 4 - 8, 2020, Corcelles-Cormondrèche (CH), Temple de Corcelles
Erato - 0190295008994 (© 2021) (80'02")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

John BULL (c1562-1628): Melancholy Pavan and Galliardb; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Toccata Ia [4]; Toccata IVa [4]; Toccata VIIa [4]; Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625): Pavana (FWV 292)b; LAURENCIUS DI ROMA (c1567-c1625): Fantaisie de Mr. de Lorencya; Luzzasco LUZZASCHI (1545-1607): Toccata del 4° tonoa [3]; Giovanni PICCHI (c1571-1643): Ballo alla Polacha con il suo Saltarelloa [2]; Luigi ROSSI (c1597-1653): Passacaille Del Seigr. Louigia; Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (1595-1663) (attr): Pavan Lachrymae (WV 106)b; Bernardo STORACE (c1637-c1707): Recercar di legaturea [6]; Gregorio STROZZI (1615-1687): Toccata IV per l'elevationea [8]; Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621): Fantasia cromatica (SwWV 258)a; Antonio VALENTE (1520?-after 1580): Sortemeplus, con alcuni fioretti (De Monte)b [1]

[1] Antonio Valente, Intavolatura de cimbalo, 1578; [2] Giovanni Picchi, Intavolatura di balli d'arpicordo, 1618; [3] Girolamo Diruta, ed., Il Transilvano, 1625; [4] Girolamo Frescobaldi, Il secondo libro di toccate, canzone, versi d'hinni, Magnificat, gagliarde, correnti et altre partite d'intavolatura di cembalo et organo, 1637; [5] Bernardo Storace, Selva di varie compositioni d’intavolatura per cimbalo ed organo, 1664; [6] Gregorio Strozzi, Capricci da sonare cembali, et organi, op. 4, 1687

Melancholy was the fashionable state of mind in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. John Dowland's famous Lachrymae Pavan and his song Flow my tears are emblematic of this 'disease', which inspired so many composers to some of their best works. The French harpsichordist Jean Rondeau took it as the subject of his recital of keyboard pieces from a period of about one hunderd years, whose outer ends are represented by Antonio Valente and Gregorio Strozzi respectively.

Dowland's Pavan was arranged by various composers, but Rondeau selected just one of them, which is attributed to the German composer Heinrich Scheidemann. It is one of the lesser-known pieces of this kind. Several other pieces specifically refer to melancholy as the inspiration of the composer, such as the Pavan and Galliard by John Bull. Other pieces suit easily the overall subject of this programme. Antonio Valente's Sortemeplus is one of them. It is an intabulation of a chanson by Philippe de Monte, whose original title reveals its character: Sortez mes pleurs - Take out my tears.

Dowland took the form of the pavan for a reason. It is a quiet dance, which was quite popular across Europe, was easy to dance, and was perfectly suited to express melancholy. Bull's Melancholy Pavan and Gibbons's Pavana from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book are other specimens.

And then there is chromaticism. It was frequently employed by composers around 1600, sometimes as part of harmonic experiments, but also in the service of expression. Sweelinck's Fantasia cromatica is one of the best examples of a piece that is entirely based on chromaticism. Its effect is strongly dependent on the temperament in which it is played. Rondeau, in his liner-notes, discusses at length the importance of unequal temperament. He points out that modern listeners are so accustomed to equal temperament, that unequal temperament "becomes something unexpected, full of surprises, almost brand new". It becomes "a pathway whose successive paving stones surprise us with their asymmetry, their variable and complex geometry." He sees Sweelinck's piece as a perfect specimen as he "has taken this flight of steps and shaved it down, turned and flipped it, superimposed it and crossed it on itself in his quest to bring together all the colours, intervals and structural possibilities available within a single temperament". It should be said that the effects in other pieces are also clearly noticeable.

Melancholy comes best to the fore in pieces that allow for a more or less improvisatory performance. That explains that Rondeau selected some of Girolamo Frescobaldi's toccatas, which don't specifically refer to melancholy, but whose character fits the nature of this programme rather well. Frescobaldi asks the performer to start slowly and then increase the tempo. Rondeau takes this at heart, and opens the toccatas in a very slow tempo, sometimes with clearly noticeable pauses between the notes. Fantasies also give the performer much freedom, such as the one by Sweelinck and the Fantaisie de Mr. de Lorency, by the little-known Laurencius di Roma. It then comes as quite a shock, when Rondeau turns to Giovanni Picchi's , which he plays in a strict rhythm, and rightly so.

He plays the Ballo two other times, in order to make a distinction between the pieces played on the virginal and those performed at the harpsichord. The use of a virginal is one of the nice features of this disc. It is used in English and Flemish keyboard music, but not that often in German and Italian music. Rondeau plays an original instrument, built around 1575, probably by Francesco Poggi in Florence. The harpsichord is a modern copy of an instrument of the early 18th century by an anonymous Italian builder.

These and the unequal temperament are literally instrumental in bringing out the features of the selected keyboard works. Rondeau has shown to be an imaginative performer in previous recordings, and he has a flair for improvisation, which he shows in his sorties into the world of jazz. Here he remains strictly within the style of the time; no crossover experiments spoil the party. Any lover of keyboard music of around 1600 should add this disc to his collection. The programme and the interpretation are well thought-over, and the performances are superb.

N.B. Those who purchase this disc should know that the last track includes a 'hidden track' which starts at around 4:20; I could not identify the piece.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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Jean Rondeau

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