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CD reviews

Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562 - 1621): Organ Works

[I] "Organ Works Vol. 1"
Harald Vogel, organ
rec: Nov 11 - 12, 2010, Lemgo, St Marien
MDG - 914 1690-6 ( 2011) (78'42")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Claude GOUDIMEL (1514/20-1572): Psalm 116; Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK: Allemanda Soll es sein (SwWV 330); Ave maris stella, canon (SwWV 193); Capriccio ex a (SwWV 281); Echo-Fantasia ex d (SwWV 261); Erbarm dich mein o Herre Gott (SwWV 303); Fantasia 4 ex a (SwWV 273); Psalm 116 (SwWV 313); Toccata ex d (SwWV 285); Toccata ex g (SwWV 295); Toccata ex a (SwWV 298)

[II] "Organ Works"
Joseph Kelemen, organ
rec: July 19 - 21, 2012, Leiden, Pieterskerk
Oehms - OC 680 ( 2012) (75'44")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Allein Gott in der Hh sey Ehr (SwWV 299); Echo-Fantasia 4 ex d (SwWV 261); Erbarm dich mein o Herre Gott (SwWV 303); Est-ce mars (SwWV 321); Fantasia Crommatica 4 ex d (SwWV 258); Fantasia Ut re mi fa sol la 4 (SwWV 263); Paduana Lachrymae (SwWV 328); Psalm 23: Mein Hter und mein Hirt (SwWV 310); Puer nobis nascitur (SwWV 315); Toccata 1. toni ex d (SwWV 286); Toccata 9. toni ex a (SwWV 296); Wir glauben all an einen Gott (SwWV 316)

The keyboard music by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck has always been part of the standard repertoire of organists and harpsichordists. The commemoration of his birth which took place in 2012 has given a boost to the performance and recording of this repertoire. The two discs which are the subject of this review are both connected to this commemoration. There is a further connection: Joseph Kelemen was a pupil of Harald Vogel.

Sweelinck was born in Deventer, a small town in the easter part of the Netherlands, in the province of Overijssel. In 1564 he moved with his parents to Amsterdam where his father had been appointed organist of the Oude Kerk. The latter died in 1573 and was succeeded by Cornelis Boskoop who may have given Jan Pieterszoon keyboard lessons. In 1577 Sweelinck became the organist of the Oude Kerk himself, a position he held until his death. He was not in the service of the church, though. In 1578 the Oude Kerk came in the hands of the Reformed Church, and playing of the organ was not allowed during Sunday services. Sweelinck was employed by the city council, and it was his duty to play during weekdays, when the church was open and people could walk freely in and out. It was in fact a kind of market place where business people settled their transactions. Sweelinck played variations on the tunes from the Genevan psalter which had only recently been introduced. As yet these tunes were not well-known, and through his improvisations Sweelinck could make people familiar with them.

It is impossible to say whether Sweelinck also played variations on secular tunes. It cannot be ruled out, even though the authorities may not have liked it. It is a fact, though, that he played such pieces on the harpsichord at his home, with members of the local elite in attendance, and probably also at their homes. There is one piece of documentary evidence in which an attendant of one of his performances speaks about Sweelinck's skills in the art of variation.

These two discs give some idea of the wide scope of his keyboard oeuvre. The main genres are represented: the toccata, the fantasia, variations on popular tunes and variations on sacred melodies. Obviously the latter category was intended for the organ. Some pieces can be played either at the harpsichord or the organ. Scholars and performers often disagree about these matters. From a historical point of view the compass of the various keyboard instruments in Sweelinck's time can give a clue about the instrument for which some of his keyboard works may have been conceived.

Both interpreters use organs which are well suited to Sweelinck's music. Harald Vogel plays an organ which has been reconstructed after old models. In Vogel's words: "The swallow's nest organ in St Marien in Lemgo is at present the only organ in the Dutch-North-German style of the late Renaissance which without stylistic compromises provides the tonal resources for the organ repertoire of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (...) and his North German pupils". Joseph Kelemen uses another important instrument, dating from 1643, with extensions from 1690, in the Pieterskerk in Leiden. Both instruments are in meantone temperament.

The discs offer enjoyable, stylish and convincing performances. Only two pieces appear on both discs. Kelemen is a bit faster than Vogel who generally seems to prefer more moderate tempi. In some pieces I would have liked more breathing spaces in Kelemen's performance. He has included variations on Est-ce mars which has to be considered a harpsichord piece. That in itself doesn't exclude a performance at the organ, but here it doesn't work out all that well. The speed in some variations is at the cost of a clear articulation which is probably also due to the acoustic. The recording in Lemgo is more direct, and as a result the articulation is clearer than in Kelemen's recording.

One issue which applies to both recordings is the change in registration during play. There are different opinions in regard to the practice of using assistants for this purpose. A Dutch organist, the late Ewald Kooiman, was convinced such assistants did not exist before the 19th century; Vogel has a different opinion. In both recordings the registration is changed in pieces where the organist has no opportunity to do that himself. More research seems to be needed in order to bring some clarity into this matter which obviously is of some importance for a modern interpretation of renaissance and baroque organ music.

Organ aficionados will certainly have some recordings with Sweelinck's music in their collections. However, these two discs are interesting additions to the catalogue, because of the quality of the performances but also the character of the organs used here. The MDG disc has a nice bonus in that Vogel demonstrates the various stops of the organ. He introduces them in German, but the tracklist indicates which stops are used.

Johan van Veen ( 2013)

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