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"Pavana - Music by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck & Peter Philips"

Kathryn Cok, harpsichord

rec: Jan 2013, Zaandam, Studio DMP
sfz music - SFZM0214 ( 2014) (68'25")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list
Scores Philips
Scores Sweelinck

Peter PHILIPS (1560/61-1628): Fantasia; Pavan Pagget - Galliard Pagget; Pavan; Passamezzo Pavan - Passamezzo Galliard; Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621): Engelse Fortuin (SwWV 320); Est-ce Mars (SwWV 321); Mein junges Leben hat ein End (SwWV 324); More Palatino (Almande Gratie) (SwWV 318); Onder een linde groen (SwWV 325); Pavana Lachrymae (SwWV 328); Pavana Philippi (SwWV 329)

It makes much sense to bring Peter Philips and Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck together in one programme. They were contemporaries and Sweelinck was strongly influenced by the English virginalists. They also knew each other's music and may have met in person in 1593. However, there are also strong differences between them.

Peter Philips left his country for religious reasons and stayed in several parts of Europe until he settled in the southern Netherlands as an organist and keyboard teacher. He was not of unimpeachable conduct: in 1593 when he travelled to Amsterdam to meet Sweelinck he was arrested under suspicion of being involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Queen Elizabeth.

Sweelinck, on the other hand, worked in Amsterdam and only travelled to other places in the northern Netherlands to inspect new organs. He only once left the country when he visited Antwerp in order to purchase a harpsichord for the city of Amsterdam which was his employer. His fame largely rests on his activities as a keyboard player and teacher. He was known for his improvisations on harpsichord and organ, and he attracted many pupils from Germany. These were all Protestants, but Sweelinck's own religious affiliation is still not quite clear. It is possible that he always remained a Catholic at heart, although he composed variations on psalm tunes from the Huguenot Psalter, and even set the whole Psalter polyphonically. Whatever his religious convictions were, he was a highly respected member of Amsterdam society and moved in the highest circles.

There is a musical connection between Philips and Sweelinck which also comes to the fore in the present recital. It opens with a Pavan which was Philips' earliest composition. Sweelinck knew this piece and extended it with two variations; it is known as Pavana Philippi. Pavans and galliards were among the most frequently used forms of keyboard music written by English virginalists, often as a pair. Two of such pairs from Philips' pen are included here: Passamezzo Pavan and Galliard and the pavan and galliard with the name of Pagget, referring to Lord Thomas Paget, another Catholic refugee whom Philips met in Rome in 1585. He entered his service and travelled with him across Europe for almost five years. They settled in Brussels in 1589 where Paget died the next year.

Sweelinck was and remains best known for his variations which demonstrate his improvisational skills. Like all his keyboard works they were never published but have come down to us in copies made by his numerous pupils. He often played such pieces in social gatherings of the town elite, and it is reported that when he started to improvise he found it difficult to stop. Like the English virginalists he often used popular tunes as the subject of his variations. In this programme we hear two specimens of his skills: Onder een linde groen - known in England as All in a garden greene - and Est-ce Mars - a tune of French origin - are simple tunes which Sweelinck uses for brilliant sets of variations. His arrangement of Dowland's Lachrimae Pavan is another token of his interest in English music of his time. The programme ends with one of his most famous works, variations on the German song Mein junges Leben hat ein End, although its authenticity seems still not be established.

Philips and Sweelinck are represented here with some of their most characteristic compositions. They are all pretty well-known which I usually consider a minus in recordings. I like artists to add something less familiar to the catalogue. However, in this case I have no problems with the choice of repertoire because Kathryn Cok delivers superb interpretations. One doesn't hear such excellent performances that often. I like her style of playing: she makes the music breathe and even if she plays in a fast tempo her interpretation has a strong sense of balance. The tempi are always well-chosen: none of the pieces drags on, and none of them is rushed. There are some fine tempo inflections which create tension and underline the contrasts within the pieces. I am especially pleased about the ornamentation. Ms Cok adds quite a lot of ornaments but never exaggerates and because of that not a single piece gives the impression of being overloaded with embellishments.

In short: this is a superb recital of some of the best keyboard music of the late renaissance.

Johan van Veen ( 2015)

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Kathryn Cok


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