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Concert reviews

Sweelinck: Psalms, Chansons, Madrigals & Keyboard Works

Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam/Harry van der Kampa; Pieter Dirksen, harpsichordb
concert: Oct 19, 2010, Utrecht, Geertekerk

Beaux yeux a 2a; Bienheureuse est la personne qui vit a 6a; Che giova posseder a 2a; Chi vuol veder a 6a; Du Seigneur les bontÚs sans fin je chanteray a 6a; Fantasia cromaticab; Fantasia Ut re mi fa sol lab; Ma donna con quest'occhi a 6a; Magnificat anima mea Dominum a 5a; Miserere mei Dominea; Or peut bien dir' Israel maintenant a 6a; Puer nobis nascitur, 4 variationsb; Sois moy, Seigneur, ma garde et mon appuy a 6a; Spagnoletta, 6 variationsb; Susanne un jour a 5a

Stephanie Petitlaurent, Nele Gram▀, soprano; Marnix De Cat, alto; Marcel Beekman, Harry van Berne, tenor; Harry van der Kamp, bass

The last couple of years the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam, directed by Harry van der Kamp, has devoted itself to the recording of the complete vocal works of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, the most important Dutch composer between the Franco-Flemish school and the 20th century. This month the last discs were released, and the whole series of 17 discs, which go along with luxurious books with information about Sweelinck and his music, was presented to Queen Beatrix. Just before that Harry van der Kamp was invested with a royal order. That was well deserved, as this project was his initiative, and the result can be rightly labelled the 'Sweelinck monument'. So far the discs have only appeared in a limited edition with books in Dutch, but considering the quality of Sweelinck's vocal oeuvre one has to hope the recordings will be made available to the international market in the near future. I strongly recommend those interested in his music to read the interview with Harry van der Kamp at the Glossa site.

At the occasion of the completion of the 'Sweelinck monument' the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam made a concert tour through the Netherlands with a kind of survey of Sweelinck's oeuvre. I attended the concert in the Geertekerk in Utrecht which is a good venue for this music. Sweelinck's Psalm settings in French are not church music, but written for performances in private homes. The madrigals and chansons obviously also require an intimate atmosphere. The acoustic of the Geertekerk is not that of a large church, and there isn't that much reverberation. As a result both the Psalms and the secular works came out well.

That was also due to the performances. The ensemble consists of a group of singers which regularly work together, and they all have been involved in this project right from the start. And that shows as the voices blend perfectly and the ensemble is immaculate. The intonation is especially important: the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam sings Sweelinck's music in meantone temperament, and that leads to brilliant consonances. The dissonances which appear now and then make even a greater impression because of that than they would in a more modern temperament. Impeccable is also the diction which makes the texts easy to understand, even in polyphonic pieces as the Psalms with up to 6 parts. (There are also Psalm settings with more parts, but they were not performed in the concert.) The Psalms are in French, and here a historical pronunciation is used. Sweelinck mostly used the melodies of the Genevan Psalter as cantus firmus, and in order to make them easy recognizable these were sung unisono before every Psalm setting. A number of people in the audience will know them well anyway, as the Genevan Psalter is still frequently used in Protestant churches in the Netherlands.

Although Sweelinck has written in the prima prattica and can be considered the last representative of the famous Franco-Netherlandish school, there are passages with clear text expression in his Psalm settings, and even more so in his madrigals and chansons. Particularly interesting in the latter category are the so-called rimes for two or three voices - in this concert two rimes for two voices were performed - in which the text is effectively translated into music. The most striking example was the closing line of Che giova posseder.

In between Pieter Dirksen played four keyboard pieces by Sweelinck at the harpsichord. Although his keyboard works are much better known than his vocal music some of the pieces Dirksen played are less common, in particular La Spagnoletta. Dirksen is an expert in Sweelinck's keyboard oeuvre which he also has edited. He showed not only his acquiantance with Sweelinck's idiom but also gave thoughtful and musically captivating performances.

The keyboard works completed this well-chosen programme and the concert was musically convincing and a very good introduction to Sweelinck's oeuvre. Hopefully this will result in a greater interest in his music and an increase in the sale of the discs which represent a truly 'Sweelinck monument'.

Johan van Veen (ę 2010)

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