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Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562 - 1621): "Sweelinck and the Art of Variation"

Brisk Recorder Quartet; Camerata Trajectina

rec: June 2012, Bunnik, Oude Dorpskerk
Globe - GLO 5253 (© 2012) (56'32")
Liner-notes: E/D/N; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

anon: Onder een linde groen; Silvia mijn Lief (tune: Malle Symen); Martin LUTHER (1483-1546): Onse Vader in hemelrijck; Daan MANNEKE (*1939): Épitaphe-Double (2012); Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK: Ballo del granduca/O che nuovo miracolo; Engelsche fortuin/Lieffd' int secreet; Malle Symen; Mein junges Leben hat ein End; Onder een linde groen; Onse Vader in hemelrijck; Susanne un jour; Vanitas vanitatum, canon a 4; Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK / Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654): Est-ce Mars/Had ick duysend ysere tongen; Klaas DE VRIES (*1944): Le tombeau de Sweelinck (2011)

[BRQ] Marjan Banis, Alide Verheij, Saskia Coolen, Bert Honig, recorder
[CT] Hieke Meppelink, soprano; Nico van der Meel, tenor; Saskia Coolen, recorder, viola da gamba; Erik Beijer, viola da gamba; Louis Peter Grijp, lute

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck was born in 1562. The commemoration of his birth resulted in various concerts and recording projects. The main project was the complete recording of his vocal oeuvre by the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam, directed by Harry van der Kamp, which was finished in 2011. In 2012 the Camerata Trajectina gave a series of concerts with music by Sweelinck and his contemporaries. Part of their programme involved several sets of variations which have been preserved. This disc is entirely devoted to this genre for which Sweelinck was especially famous.

He was organist of the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam for much of his life. He was not in the service of the church as the organ was not used during Sunday services. Sweelinck's employer was the city council which expected him to play during weekdays when the church was open. It was in fact a kind of market place where people met and did business. Sweelinck had to play variations on the tunes of the Genevan psalter. This way visitors could become acquainted with these relatively new melodies which were sung during Sunday services. Whether Sweelinck also played variations on secular tunes is hard to say. It is possible, but he certainly will have played them at home, attended by members of the upper echelon of society. The liner-notes include an eyewitness report of Sweelinck's obsession with the art of variation.

The melodies he used were very popular and not only in the Netherlands. Many of them originated from England or France, and were set to Dutch texts by contemporary poets. The melody of Est-ce Mars, for instance, is sung here with a text by the poet Jan Jansz Starter from the province of Frisia, taken from a collection of 1621. Other melodies which were varied by Sweelinck, are sung to anonymous texts. They are sometimes mixed: the instruments play the variations, whereas a singer performs the original melody with a Dutch text.

Sweelinck's keyboard works were never printed during his lifetime. That was quite common: keyboard players usually improvised, and organists were not expected to play music by others. The music which has come down to us was either written down by pupils or by composers themselves as pedagogical material. Therefore the variations by Sweelinck which have been preserved represent only a small portion of what the master himself must have played.

As he was a keyboard player his variations are mostly performed at the harpsichord or the organ. However, since they were strictly polyphonic and all parts are treated on equal terms, they can easily be played on other instruments, as is the case here. The Brisk Recorder Quartet treats them as consort music, whereas the Camerata Trajectina plays some variations with a mixture of voice, recorder, viola da gamba and lute. This is a perfectly legitimate option which could well reflect the way music was played in the homes of wealthy citizens who used whichever instruments were at hand.

The programme includes the famous variations on Mein junges Leben hat ein End and one of Sweelinck's canons, Vanitas vanitatum. Material from these two compositions is also used by Daan Manneke, who composed Épitaphe-Double, commissioned by the Brisk Recorder Quartet. The quotations from Sweelinck are clearly discernable, and in general Manneke stays quite close to the style of Sweelinck. He has often conducted performances of early music and many of his compositions show the influence of the music of the renaissance and the baroque. That is quite different in the other contemporary piece on this disc, Le tombeau de Sweelinck, by Klaas de Vries. His idiom is entirely modern, and the references to Sweelinck are not that easy to discern. It is a piece for viola da gamba - symbolizing the human voice - and a recorder quartet. This work was also commissioned by the Brisk Recorder Quartet.

The cooperation of the two ensembles has resulted in an orginal and interesting disc in which Sweelinck's music is approached from a different angle. It makes much sense to present his music with texts from poets of his own time, showing the dissemination of the melodies which he used for variations. Both ensembles bring fine performances. It is a shame that the delivery isn't always perfect. I am also pretty sure that the singers get it wrong in the second stanza from Mein junges Leben hat ein End. They sing "behilft" where the booklet says "befihlt". The latter seems to me correct, but unfortunately I couldn't find the complete lyrics on the internet. The booklet includes explanations on the various songs, but these are small compensation for the absence of translations.

Even so, this disc is an attractive proposition for everyone interested in Sweelinck's music or more generally in the music of his time. The man's genius is amply demonstrated here.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Brisk Recorder Quartet
Camerata Trajectina

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