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CD: Crotchet


Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621)
Choral Works – Volume 3
Diligam te Domine (à 5) [4:10]
Psalm 109: O Dieu, mon honneur et ma gloire (à 6) [3:25]
Tanto tempore vobiscum sum (à 5) [5:05]
Psalm 77: A Dieux ma voix j’ai haussée (à 5) [4:40]
Che giova posseder cittadi e regni (à 2) [3:45]
Yeux qui guidez mon âme (à 3) [6:15]
Dolcissimo ben mio (à 3) [3:20]
O Domine Jesu Christe (à 5) [6:40]
Psalm 114: Quand Israel hors d’Egypte sortit (à 4) [2:40]
Timor Domini (à 5) [3:05]
Mein junges Leben hat ein End’ (à 4) [7:05]
Qual vive Salamandra [3:25]
Willem Bremer (cornett, bass dulcian); René van Laken (tenor shawm, tenor dulcian); Harry Ries (alto sackbut); Wim Bécu (tenor, bass sackbuts))
Nederlands Kamerkoor/Paul van Nevel
rec. 18-19 July 1989, 18 January 1990, Augustinian Church, Amsterdam
ETCETERA KTC1320 [53:32]
Experience Classicsonline

Having once heard my old RAM orchestration teacher John Gardner emphatically pronouncing Sweelinck as ‘Swielinck’ with that joyous w playing its vital role, my subconscious always drags this version out whenever I see the name. The Dutch however usually pronounce it ‘Svaylinck’, with the emphasis on the vay, and with a notably less direct second consonant. Thus endeth the brief lesson in pronouncing composers’ names  – MusicWeb International is nothing if not multi-functional.
This disc is the third and final release in a series from the Netherlands Chamber Choir which was previously available on the NM Classics label. Recorded in a fine church acoustic, this excellent choir is eminently capable of transporting us into the rich world of 16th-century polyphony. The techniques involved in this music entail an interwoven texture of equally important voices, with the composer’s aim being to make each voice worthwhile in its own right. The approach to text was governed by strict rules, resulting in a subtle play of consonance and dissonance.       
Sweelinck’s oeuvre stands as a worthy testament to the last generation of Renaissance composers, and can largely be divided into the two categories. These are the more secular keyboard works for organ or harpsichord, and the kind of vocal pieces of which this disc is a goodly selection, and of which Etcetera’s 3 CD form an essential collection. Sweelinck’s vocal compositions cover many genres, ranging from French psalms and French chansons to Italian madrigals and Latin motets. He spent much of his life working on the ambitious project of creating arrangements for all 150 psalms of the French psalter in their original French rhyme form. These can be very moving, such as Psalm 109, O Dieu, mon honneur et ma gloire, which has a wonderful arching melody in the cornett, moving like a Bruckner adagio over the beautiful but sometimes complex vocal counterpoint going on beneath. Instrumental reinforcement is also an aspect of Psalm 77, with much of the counterpoint appearing as an instrumental ensemble below the voices in the first section, and concluding with a capella singing. The booklet gives excellent commentaries on each piece, accompanied by the original text, describing the content of each and removing much of the need for translations. Sweelinck’s originality and willingness to abandon conventional forms is illustrated in the third Psalm on this disc, Quand Israel hors d’Egypte sortit, which conforms to none of the standard models of the time and has some impressive contrasts within its lively and brief duration.
These French psalms fall under the Calvinist tradition, but Sweelinck’s work also covers the Lutheran church in his organ chorales, and the other Cantiones sacrae relate to the services of the Roman Catholic church. Fragments from Latin bible texts such as Tanto tempore vobiscum sum from the Gospel according to St. John give rise to gorgeous counterpoint in double-fugue form, and there are also motet style settings such as O Domine Jesu Christe, in which madrigal techniques are applied to bring emphases to certain phrases in the text. As is the case with paintings from this time, some of these pieces are a reminder to the rich that their wealth has no value in the afterlife. The Italian words of Pietro Bembo have this function in Che giova posseder cittadi e regni, in which the universal condition of loneliness is illustrated in lines of striking simplicity and sparseness.
One surprise addition to this beautifully performed programme is an arrangement of Sweelinck’s keyboard variations on Mein junges Leben hat ein End’. Paul van Nevel has arranged the theme and four of the variations into five strophes for four-part chorus. This sounds very good, though the overriding feeling is that if Sweelinck were to have made his own vocal work on this theme and texts an entirely different work would have emerged. The arrangement of the keyboard music works well enough, but the resultant word painting sounds strangely un-idiomatic and ‘modern’ alongside the other dedicated vocal works on the disc.               
The Nederlands Kamerkoor (Netherlands Chamber Choir) is an all-round ensemble that performs contemporary choral music as well as that from just about every other period in musical history. Paul van Nevel’s specialism in musical notation, interpretation and sources for early polyphonic music bring an added depth to the performances on this recording, and the ready availability of these performances is to be welcomed. Even a brief trawl through the available recordings of Swelinck’s work shows a predominance of releases covering his keyboard compositions. Collectors who already know and love Sweelinck’s organ and harpsichord work can enter a new world of ravishing Renaissance religious music with these works, secure in the knowledge that they are still among the best available anywhere.
Dominy Clements


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