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Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621)
Psalms from Geneva
Toccata in a [5:03]
Psalm 140 [7:03]
Toccata in G [2:48]
Psalm 23 [7:49]
Toccata in C [3:55]
Psalm 116 [6:31]
Fantasia Chromatica in D [7:30]
Psalm 36 [10:40]
Echo Fantasia in C [8:34]
Chorale ‘Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr [4:10]
Chorale ‘Puer Nobis Nascitur’ [3:19]
Masaaki Suzuki (organ)
rec. Shinko-Kyokai (Reformed Church of Japan), Kobe, December 1995. DDD
BIS CD-1614 [69:28]

On the face of it this is an interesting historically-informed recording of organ music by the Orpheus of Amsterdam. But the disc also has a contemporary significance: the Reformed Church of Japan in whose Kobe church this recording was made sings primarily from the Geneva Psalter. It has this in common with the majority of Protestant congregations in the Netherlands. The Geneva Psalter has recently been translated into Japanese leading to increased awareness of the music and lending a new significance to the present repertoire. This has also provided the impetus for the creation of instruments in Japan such as the organ featured here.
Despite the obvious Dutch/North German influence, the organ was in fact built by a French craftsman, the Strasbourg based Marc Garnier. He, it must be said, is primarily known for organs in Japan, and especially for his renowned ‘double-case’ instrument in the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space. The present organ, dating from 2002, is the finest I have heard from him until now. It features just 18 stops across Hauptwerk, Rückwerk, and independent pedal. It also features meantone tuning, with sub-semitones, and short octaves. It is remarkably beautiful; from the immense energy of the plenum, to the orphaic charm of the flutes - listen especially to the 4’ Kleinflöte in Psalm 140 - and the excellent reeds. My only question mark centres on the proportions of the different cases. In the school of Schnitger an 8’ Haupwerk with a 2’ Brustwerk is quite normal, but I don’t know of any examples of an 8’ Hauptwerk with a 2’ Rückpositive.  Even if the latter doesn’t offer a second plenum it strikes me as visually odd quite apart from anything else. The incorporation of Japanese themes into the case, as in Tokyo, is exceptionally clever.  The protruding pedal ‘case’ on the left side behind the Hauptwerk looks less convincing. As far as I can tell the organ isn’t centred on the balcony. It seems a pity that there wasn’t another solution which would have avoided the loss of symmetry in the case.
Masaaki Suzuki has become world-renowned through the wonderful Bach recordings on BIS with ‘his’ Collegium Bach Japan. In founding his own group to perform primarily Bach, Suzuki surely took his cue from his former harpsichord professor in Amsterdam, Ton Koopman. Koopman’s influence extends into Suzuki’s organ playing which can tend, as I know from personal experience, to be rather wild. Here Sweelinck’s music is presented with an excellent liveliness in the articulation. The organ never struggles to sound optimal, even if Suzuki’s touch is sometimes rather active. The improvised ornaments go too far though I have heard much more extreme ornamentation from him live in concert. What I miss in general a certain Calvinist seriousness in the psalms as well as a weightiness, impossible for instance in the Fantasia Chromatica at this tempo; the end here really is wild, 16’ pedal reed and all. The registration schemes in the free works are also unnecessarily complex.
This is very enjoyable though, due to the quality of the instrument, and because Suzuki’s very personal way of playing can’t distract from the fact that there is a great musician at work. The booklet also contains excellent essays by the Dutch musicologist Jan Luth. Another nice touch is that the psalms are presented in the original settings by Claude Goudimel before each of Sweelinck’s related compositions.
Chris Bragg


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