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Early Music

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The Orpheus of Amsterdam
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621)

Toccata in C [4:27]; Malle Sijmen [1:39]; Ricercar [11:40]
Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654)

Echo ad manuale duplex, forte & lente [9:46] (Echo ad manuale duplex, forte & lente [5:46]; -Echo alio modo…cantus variante [4:00])
Est-ce Mars [10:34] (Thema-Est-ce Mars [0:43]; 1. Variatio a 4 voci in cantu [0:43]; 2. Variatio a 4 voci in cantu colorato [1:04]; 3. Variatio bicinium in cantu [0:58]; 4. Variatio a 4 voci triplici contrapuncto [0:51]; 5. Variatio a 4 voci in cantu colorato [0:55]; 6. Variatio bicinium duplici contrapuncto [0:59]; 7. Variatio a 3 voci in cantu colorato [1:03]; 8. Variatio a 3 voci in cantu colorato [1:11]; 9. Variatio a 3 voci in basso colorato [0:54]; 10 Variatio a 4 voci in cantu colorato [1:13])
Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (c.1595-1693)

Magnificat VII toni [12:12]: (Versus 1 [1:55]; Versus 2 [3:15]; Versus auff 2 Clavier [4:50]; Versus pedaliter [2:12])
Gail Archer, organ
Rec: Wellesley College, Massachusetts, 11 January 2004 DDD
CALA CACD88043 [50:36]

 

On the face of it this is an attractive, if rather short, collection of music by Sweelinck and his most famous students Scheidt and Scheidemann. It is even performed on an iconic meantone organ; Charles Fisk’s creation for Wellesley College, at that time, (possibly still?) the largest all-meantone organ in the US, (some dual-temperament organs are larger). It is one of the crowning achievements of Fisk, a pivotal figure in American organ building who died just two years after its completion. It sounds well here, reminding us that some builders really can make beautiful instruments in impossibly dry acoustics.

The weak link however is the organist Gail Archer, recently appointed Professor of Organ at Manhattan School of Music in New York City. Unfortunately her fundamental problems with the understanding and performance of this music are clear from the opening scales of the C major Sweelinck Toccata. Archer does not speak the language of this music and the result is dull. Her technique allows her none of the subtlety of touch required; there is no evidence here that she knows how to express a strong beat or (more especially) a weak beat, or a crescendo or diminuendo. The result is that the music becomes impossibly accented and constantly focused on the smallest note values. Even the left hand cannot differentiate between the two minim beats which make up much of its role in Malle Sijmen, far less four crochet beats at other points; all the accents are completely equal. Her use of early fingering is clearly audible but it seems that she has little idea how to use it to a musical end. Her shaping of rhetorical figures is non-existent, as is her feeling for affekt. Listen to Archer’s Scheidemann Magnificat and compare with Julia Brown’s recording of the same work on Naxos. The difference between Archer’s awkward, agricultural playing and Brown’s subtle, beautifully controlled, and expressive playing is like night and day. Archer fails to articulate the Cantus Firmus in the Pedaliter variation; the repeated notes all but disappear. The Sweelinck Ricercar is a travesty, with a silly, contrived registration scheme, (begins with the Principal, visits around eight other registrations before ending up on the plenum with the pedal reeds), and is unstable and disjointed. At one point (6:16) the pedal takes over the theme and actually delivers it űberlegato.

There are countless other better recordings of this music than this, which is unfortunately let down by an organist seemingly out of her depth.

Chris Bragg



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