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Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621)
Complete Keyboard Works
Complete listing after review
Bob van Asperen (harpsichord and virginal)
Pieter-Jan Belder (harpsichord and virginal)
Pieter van Dijk (organ)
Pieter Dirksen (harpsichord and virginal)
Leo van Doeselaar (organ)
Gustav Leonhardt (harpsichord)
Reitze Smits (organ)
Marieke Spaans (harpsichord and virginal)
Harald Vogel (organ)
Alexander Weimann (harpsichord)
Bernard Winsemius (organ)
Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam [Nele Gramß (soprano), Marnix De Cat (alto), Harry van Berne (tenor)/Harry van der Kamp (bass)]
rec. between June 2012 and February 2014, various locations in the Netherlands and Germany.  DDD
Texts but no English translations of sung items included.
GLOSSA GCD922410 [77:15 + 76:24 + 74:14 + 74:16 + 75:53 + 68:36]

Comparative recordings:

CHANDOS CHAN0701 (Organ Works) Robert Woolley [72:22] – reviewed as download from (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet)
— CHAN0758 (Works for harpsichord and virginal) Robert Woolley [63:31] – reviewed as download from (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet) – review of CD.
— CHAN0811 (Works for harpsichord and virginal) Robert Woolley [77:59] – reviewed as download from (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet) – see Download News 2016/1.
— HYPERION CDA67421/2 (2-CD selection of organ works) Christopher Herrick [150:34] – from (CDs from Archive Service, mp3 and lossless downloads, with pdf booklet for £16.99).  Don’t be tempted to save £1 by pressing the iTunes button for less than full-bit-rate mp3.

Chandos are releasing recordings of Sweelinck’s keyboard works, performed by Robert Woolley, piecemeal, but their recent release of Volume 3 as a download only and their decision to demote the two previous volumes similarly, plus the fact that the latest release had to wait eight years to appear, suggests that their heart is not quite in the process.  Glossa have gone for the kill with this attractively priced 6-CD set from a variety of distinguished performers on a range of instruments, which also includes the choral works on which the keyboard pieces are based.  They have already released a 2-CD set of Sweelinck’s Cantiones Sacrę, also performed, as on the new recording, by the Gesualdo Consort of Amsterdam (GCD922406), his complete psalm settings (GCD922407, 12 CDs) and his secular vocal works (GCD922401, 3 CDs).

It’s not the first time that such a complete recording of the keyboard music has been on offer: some of the present performers also appeared on an earlier set from NM Classics, but that seems to have disappeared.  With the three other collections, the whole project inspired and overseen by Harry van der Kamp, Glossa have outdone even that earlier edition.

As I wrote of the Woolley recordings in Download News 2016/1, Sweelinck’s music may not have the general appeal of that of some of his better-known contemporaries but you would hardly think that he was the organist of a Calvinist church where he could perform only on weekdays and before and after services, the use of the organ during Sunday services being banned, as it would later be in England under the puritans.  They took religious differences seriously in those days: when the English Catholic exile Peter Philips came to hear Sweelinck play in 1593, he was arrested.  Nevertheless, Sweelinck was not known as the ‘Orpheus of Amsterdam’ for nothing; his music is well worth getting to know and the Chandos recordings are a good way to do so: very fine performances, well recorded and available in both CD-quality and, for Volume 3, better 24-bit sound.

I’m sorry to say, however, that Glossa have stolen their thunder in one fell swoop with this release: we have already had to wait fourteen years for the Chandos recordings to cover roughly half of Sweelinck’s output whereas this complete set was recorded between four and two years ago.   Given that the performances are excellent, the six CDs on sale for little more than the three Chandos CDs combined, and the recording very good, albeit that there is no 24-bit equivalent, lovers of early keyboard music should not hesitate.  Others may well find themselves won over by these attractive works.

There may not be too many Dutch composers whose names spring to the tip of the tongue but Sweelinck is certainly a treasure and this 6-CD collection is like one of those boxes of chocolates that you bought for Christmas and swore not too eat too many of but couldn’t resist keep dipping in.  It’s even got as attractive a cover as you will find on any chocolate box – and far less twee than some such.

I’m pleased to see Gustav Leonhardt among the performers, even if it is only in the last two items on the final CD and taken from an older recording: he died just before he could make his intended contribution to the enterprise.  My introduction to Sweelinck came from a recording which he made around 1972 for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, having edited some of the music for the definitive edition.  It’s still available at super-budget-price on 88697576322 and is an excellent taster collection.  Be warned, however, that it may very well tempt you to buy the Woolley recordings or this Glossa complete set.

As it happens, another recording of the Variations on Mein junges Leben hat ein End’, SWV324, came in the same parcel of review copies: a Linn SACD entitled Journey: Two Hundred Years of Harpsichord Music, performed by Trevor Pinnock (CKD570).  Sweelinck rightly has an honoured place there in a recital covering the period from Antonio de Cabezon via Bach and Handel to Domenico Scarlatti.

On Glossa Pieter Dirksen has what I believe to be the considerable advantage of the listener having heard the original tune sung immediately before the variations.  I found that a great help here and throughout these recordings in following how Sweelinck varies the music.  Dirksen takes the variations fairly sedately, Pinnock noticeably faster.  The slower tempo is well suited to the more intimate-sounding instrument, the virginal, Pinnock’s slightly faster approach to the showier harpsichord – a modern instrument, I presume, though it’s not specified.

Apart from that one work my comparisons have been with the Chandos recordings and with a 2-CD set of Sweelinck’s organ music performed by Christopher Herrick and released by Hyperion in 2004 on CDA67421/2.  I don’t intend to bore you with a detailed comparison: all three recordings are very good.  I was surprised to note that the original reviewer of the Hyperion in Gramophone thought Herrick’s playing technically splendid but lacking perception of the composer’s ‘exquisitely formed and incremental linear work’.  I’m certainly not about to demur from that comment about the music but my own feelings are much more in alignment with the 4-star rating of the performances in the Penguin Guide.

I’ve already referred to two performances of Sweelinck’s best-known work, Mein junges Leben, on harpsichord and virginal.  Herrick plays the work with aplomb on CD2 of the Hyperion collection and with a real sense of fantasy and there is no sense that his insistence on old-style fingering, quite different from the Czerny technique which plagued all budding pianists, gets in the way of presenting the music as a flowing whole.  His timing of 6:43 seems ideal for the work – not too slow nor too hurried and mid-way between the Pinnock and Dirksen timings.

It’s also very close indeed to Woolley’s sense of how the music should sound, give or take small differences between the two organs.  If I lean slightly towards Herrick’s choice of registration – listed in the Hyperion and Chandos booklets for each piece as well as the organ specification – and slightly more self-assured manner, there’s not much in it.  One could argue that a piece based on a song in which a young man contemplates his death should sound somewhat tentative and Woolley’s young man sounds much chirpier, more like Herrick’s, in the later variations.  The song ends with the assurance that suffering ends with death: Es fehrt dahin mein Leyd.

Leonhardt’s programme on DHM doesn’t include Mein junges Leben, so I chose Da pacem, Domine from his recital for comparison.  Bernard Winsemius performs that on track 3 of the first Glossa CD after we have had the benefit of hearing sung the ‘old church melody’ on which it’s based.  As befits a work based on the text ‘Give peace in our time, O Lord/Because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only Thou, O God’, familiar to Anglicans from its use as a versicle and response at Mattins and Evensong, Leonhardt starts quietly, as it were with the intercession for peace in mind, but gradually rises to a climax with the assurance that God is fighting for us. 

From Winsemius the assertion of God’s support seems inherent right from the start.  If I prefer Leonhardt’s quieter opening and the fact that he gives the music more than a minute longer to establish itself that may be the result of long familiarity with that recording.  On my first run through the set without making comparisons I must say that I had no reservations about the new recording of this work.  It’s not just the difference between the two organs that makes me prefer the sound quality on Glossa; recording techniques have not stood still in 40 years, good as the DHM sound is.

Ton Koopman on a deleted 4-CD Philips recording on two organs, three harpsichords and three virginals made in 1981 but released much later, still available as a download, is even more gentle than either Leonhardt or Winsemius, beginning tentatively with the underlying melody but bringing out the way in which Sweelinck dances around it more effectively than either.  His is, if anything, a more contemplative account even than Leonhardt’s, yet he contrives to reach his goal in almost exactly the same time as Winsemius.  Apart from some noisy action from his organ at times, this recording is still well worthy of consideration, though I noted a surprising lack of Koopman’s customary exuberance in this and several other pieces: subscribers can stream from Qobuz where it costs a reasonable £26.77 to download in lossless sound.  There are no notes but I understand that the CDs were not too well endowed in that respect.

Two final comparisons: the Poolse almande (Polish Allemande) Soll es sein? is performed by Alexander Weimann on the Glossa set and features on Robert Woolley’s latest, third volume from Chandos.  Weimann’s is the more studied performance, by which I don’t mean that it sounds dull, but I do slightly prefer Woolley’s slightly brighter interpretation.

Both Woolley and Bob van Asperen employ virginals for the variations on the Christmas hymn Puer nobis nascitur.  Here again Glossa score by prefacing the keyboard work with a vernacular version of the original hymn: Ons is ghebooren een kindekijn (Unto us a son is born).  As befits a Calvinist institution, both the sung version and the variations are less exuberant than Prętorius’s setting and van Asperen captures the subdued dignity very well.  Though also using the more intimate sounding virginal, Woolley gives us a slightly brighter and marginally faster interpretation, one which I’m slightly inclined to prefer, though I wonder if Sweelinck’s original hearers would have agreed.

On DHM Leonhardt plays a Metzler organ, dating from 1971 but built on traditional lines, Herrick on a copy of an instrument associated with one of Sweelinck’s students in Stockholm, now rebuilt much further North in Piteå.  Woolley uses an organ in Leiden dating originally from 1643 and modern copies of harpsichords and virginals, all using quarter-comma meantone tuning.

The instruments employed by Glossa all date from Sweelinck’s time or shortly afterwards.  The technically minded will wish to know that all are tuned in quarter-comma meantone apart from the Evers organ at Oostel which has 1/5-comma tuning.  For the rest of us that means that they make the music sound as Sweelinck would have expected to hear it: modern equal-temperament tuning would have sounded odd to him.

The Glossa booklet contains photos of some of the instruments but not the specifications of the organs.  I can’t complain because it’s already detailed and informative and with so many instruments involved it would hardly have been possible to have given the specifications of each, let alone the individual registrations as on Hyperion and Chandos.  It will, nevertheless, be an issue which organists may wish to take into account in choosing.  Though the English translation of the notes is idiomatic, it’s a shame that a small corner was cut by not translating the texts.

If I appear to be leaning towards other recordings in some respects, I must stress that overall I greatly enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity of hearing the complete Glossa recording.  I shall certainly be dipping into it along with the Woolley and Herrick recordings and I certainly shan’t be ditching the Leonhardt CD.

Those very fine Herrick recordings of Sweelinck’s organ music on Hyperion and two separate CDs of his sacred music (CDA67103 and 67104, Trinity College Cambridge/Christopher Marlow) have fallen into the Archive Service or download-only category –  I hope that fact and the deletions which I have mentioned don’t constitute a bad omen.  I’ve mentioned the Hyperion organ recordings; I hope to redress the balance by reviewing the sacred music in a future edition of Download News.  By numbering the CDs as two sets of three – see track listing below – I wondered if Glossa are hedging their bets on splitting the set at some future date in the event that it doesn’t sell too well.  If so, I hope that they are wrong: at its attractive price – typically less than £40 – it deserves to sell like the proverbial hot cakes.

Brian Wilson

I'm grateful for an email explaining that the set was originally released as two 3-CD sets, which explains the numbering of the discs and makes my fears of a future breakup groundless.

Track listing
The Keyboard Works, Part I
CD 1
“Schwalbennest” organ (Kirche Sankt Marien, Lemgo, Germany)
Fantasia a1 - ą 4 (‘B.A.C.H.’), SWWV 273 (Bernard Winsemius)
Da pacem Domine in diebus nostris
Old church melody [Marnix De Cat, Harry van Berne, Harry van der Kamp)
4 Variations, SWWV 302 (Bernard Winsemius)
Fantasia F1 - Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la; ą 4 voci (Hexachord), SWWV 263 (Bernard Winsemius)
Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott
Die XXVIII. Melodey, ą 4 (Jacobus Praetorius, 1586-1651) (Nele Gramß, Marnix De Cat, Harry van Berne, Harry van der Kamp]
6 Variations, SWWV 303 (Leo van Doeselaar)
Fantasia C5, SWWV 257 (Leo van Doeselaar)
O God, die onse Vader bist
Melody (Jan Utenhove?) (Nele Gramß, Marnix De Cat, Harry van Berne, Harry van der Kamp]
SWWV 308 (Leo van Doeselaar)
16th/17th century organ (Reformierte Kirche, Uttum, Germany)
Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein
Die LVI. Melodey, ą 4 (Joachim Decker, c.1575-1611) (Nele Gramß, Marnix De Cat, Harry van Berne, Harry van der Kamp)
3 Variations, SWWV 307 (Bernard Winsemius)
Toccata d3 - Primi Toni, SWWV 287 (Harald Vogel)
Fantasia F2 - ą 4, SWWV 264 (Harald Vogel)
Fantasia g2 - [ą 3], SWWV 271 (Harald Vogel)

CD 2
Hans Ruckers virginal (1604. Dordrecht, Netherlands)
Toccata g4, SWWV 295 (Pieter Dirksen)
Mein junges Leben hat ein Endt
Melody (ą 4, Pieter Dirksen) (Nele Gramß, Marnix De Cat, Harry van Berne, Harry van der Kamp]
6 Variations, SWWV 324 (Pieter Dirksen)
Almande Gratie. 4 Variations, SWWV 318 (Pieter Dirksen)
Toccata a2 - Noni toni (‘Pręludium Toccata’), SWWV 297 (Pieter Dirksen)
Puer nobis nascitur
Melody: Ons is gheboren een kindekijn (Nele Gramß)
4 Variations, SWWV 315 (Bob van Asperen)
Pavana Lachrymę (after John Dowland), SWWV 328 (Bob van Asperen)
Ioannes Ruckers harpsichord (1639. Schloss Ringenberg, Hamminkeln, Germany)
Toccata C1, SWWV 282 (Bob van Asperen)
Engelsche Fortuyn / Fortune my foe
Melody (ą 4, Pieter Dirksen) (Nele Gramß, Marnix De Cat, Harry van Berne, Harry van der Kamp)
3 Variations, SWWV 320 (Bob van Asperen)
Toccata a1 - Noni Toni, SWWV 296 (Bob van Asperen)
Pavana Hispanica. 4 Variations, SWWV 327 (Bob van Asperen)
Fantasia d2 - ą 4, SWWV 259 (Bob van Asperen)
Pavana Philippi. 2 Variations (after Peter Philips), SWWV 329 (Pieter-Jan Belder)
Fantasia d1 - Crommatica, SWWV 258 (Pieter-Jan Belder)

CD 3
Jan van Covelens organ (Sint-Laurenskerk, Alkmaar, Netherlands)
Toccata C3 - 5. Toni [ą 3], SWWV 284 (Pieter Dirksen)
Fantasia G2 - [ą 2.3.4. vocem], SWWV 267 (Pieter Dirksen)
Fantasia a3 - auf die Manier eines Echo, SWWV 275 (Pieter Dirksen)
Canon on the melody of Psalm 36 (& 68), SWWV 196 (Pieter Dirksen)
Christe qui lux es et dies
Melody (Martin Luther) [Marnix De Cat, Harry van Berne, Harry van der Kamp)
3 Variations, SWWV 301 (Pieter van Dijk)
Fantasia g3 - [ą 2], SWWV 272 (Pieter van Dijk)
Fantasia g1 - [contraria ą 4], SWWV 270 (Pieter van Dijk)
Edo Evers organ (Warnfriedkirche, Osteel, Germany)
Toccata G2 - ą 3, SWWV 289 (Reitze Smits)
Fantasia d5, SWWV 262 (Reitze Smits)
Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ
Die LV. Melodey, ą 4 (David Scheidemann, c.1574-1629) (Nele Gramß, Marnix De Cat, Harry van Berne, Harry van der Kamp]
4 Variations, SWWV 305 (Reitze Smits)
Fantasia G3 - ‘Fuga 7. Toni’, SWWV 268 (Pieter Dirksen)
Allein zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ
Die V. Melodey, ą 4 (Hieronymus Praetorius, 1560-1629) (Nele Gramß, Marnix De Cat, Harry van Berne, Harry van der Kamp]
4 Variations, SWWV 309 (Pieter Dirksen)

The Keyboard Works, Part II

CD 1
Artus Gheerdinck virginal (1605. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany)
Toccata G1, SWWV 288 (Marieke Spaans)
Almande de chapelle. 3 Variations, SWWV 317 (Marieke Spaans)
Toccata C2, SWWV 283 (Marieke Spaans)
Malle Sijmen, SWWV 323 (Marieke Spaans)
Toccata g1 - 2di Toni, SWWV 292 (Pieter-Jan Belder)
Ich fuhr mich über Rheine. 6 Variations, SWWV 322 (Pieter-Jan Belder)
Toccata g3 - 2di Toni, SWWV 294 (Pieter-Jan Belder)
Andreas Ruckers harpsichord (1637. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany)
Esce Mars
Melody (ą 4, Pieter Dirksen) (Nele Gramß, Marnix De Cat, Harry van Berne, Harry van der Kamp)
7 Variations, SWWV 321 (Marieke Spaans)
Toccata G4, SWWV 291 (Marieke Spaans)
Fantasia C2 - ą 4, SWWV 254 (Marieke Spaans)
Die flichtig Nimphę. 3 Variations, SWWV 331 (Marieke Spaans)
Fantasia C3 - [Echo], SWWV 255 (Marieke Spaans)
Soll es sein - [Polish Almande]. 8 Variations, SWWV 330 (Alexander Weimann)
Toccata d2 - Primi Toni, SWWV 286 (Alexander Weimann)
Unter der Linden grune. 4 Variations, SWWV 325 (Alexander Weimann)
Fantasia C1 - auf die Manier eines Echo, SWWV 253 (Alexander Weimann)

CD 2
Hendrick and Johannes Huis organ (Antoniuskerk, Kantens, Netherlands)
Allein Gott in der Höh sey Ehr
Die VI. Melodey, ą 4 (Hieronymus Praetorius, 1560-1629) (Nele Gramß, Marnix De Cat, Harry van Berne, Harry van der Kamp)
4 Variations, SWWV 299 (Reitze Smits)
Toccata d1, SWWV 285 (Reitze Smits)
Fantasia d3 - ą 4: Echo, SWWV 260 (Reitze Smits)
Ricercar a1 - del nono Tono, SWWV 280 (Pieter van Dijk)
Fantasia F3 - mit Bindungen, SWWV 265 (Pieter van Dijk)
Galtus & Germer van Hagerbeer organ (Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands)
Wir gleuben all an einen Gott
Die LXXXIII. Melodey, a 4 (Jacobus Praetorius, 1586-1651) (Nele Gramß, Marnix De Cat, Harry van Berne, Harry van der Kamp)
3 Variations, SWWV 316 (Leo van Doeselaar)
Toccata a3 - ą 4 Voc, SWWV 298 (Leo van Doeselaar)
Fantasia d4 - [ą 4: Echo], SWWV 261 (Leo van Doeselaar)
Jesus Christus unser Heylandt
Die XLIIII. Melodey, ą 4 (Joachim Decker, c.1575-1611) (Nele Gramß, Marnix De Cat, Harry van Berne, Harry van der Kamp)
5 Variations, SWWV 306 (Harald Vogel)
Fantasia a2 - ą 2, 3: et 4 vocem, SWWV 274 (Harald Vogel)

CD 3
Transept organ (Oude Kerk, Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Psalm 36: Des boosdoenders wille seer quaedt. 4 Variations, SWWV 311 (Bernard Winsemius)
Psalm 23: Myn Godt voedt my als mijn heerder ghepresen. 3 Variations, SWWV 310 (Bernard Winsemius)
Psalm 140: O myn Godt, wilt my nu bevryden. 5 Variations, SWWV 314 (Bernard Winsemius)
Psalm 60: Heer die ons hebt verstooten al. 2 Variations, SWWV 312 (Bernard Winsemius)
Psalm 116: Ick hebb’ den Heer lief, want hy heeft verhoort. 4 Variations, SWWV 313 (Bernard Winsemius)
Psalm 9, verse 11: Chantez en exultation au Dieu qui habit’ en Sion.
Double fugue on a theme by Claude Lejeune (Nele Gramß, Marnix De Cat, Harry van Berne, Harry van der Kamp)
Andreas Ruckers harpsichord (1637. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany)
Fantasia G1 - ą 4, SWWV 266 (Pieter Dirksen)
De lustelijcke mey a 4 (Clemens non Papa, c.1510-1155/56) (Nele Gramß, Marnix De Cat, Harry van Berne, Harry van der Kamp)
(John Bull, 1562-1628) (Pieter Dirksen) Fantasia on a fugue by M. Jan Pieters (John Bull) (Alexander Weimann)
Rainer Schütze harpsichord (1961, after Ruckers. Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Esce Mars. 7 Variations, SWWV 321 (Gustav Leonhardt)
Pavana Lachrymę (after John Dowland), SWWV 328 (Gustav Leonhardt)


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