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Cromatica - The art of moving souls
Marcin Świątkiewicz (harpsichord)
rec. 2015, Henryk Mikolaj Górecki Silesian Philharmonic, Katowice, Poland CPO555142-2 [73:38]
When a disc bears the title Cromatico one knows what to expect. It is derived from the piece which opens the present disc, written by a certain Emanuell Soncino, about whom nothing is known. Despite his Italian name, this and one other piece from his pen are preserved in an English collection of manuscripts from the early 17th-century. It is an extreme example of the use of chromaticism, which was especially popular in the 17th century.
That was a time of harmonic experiments. One of the pioneers of the use of chromaticism was Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa, who used it frequently in his last two books of madrigals. However, he was not the only one in his time: other composers of madrigals of his and the previous generation also applied it, albeit less frequently. The subtitle of this disc indicates that chromaticism was used with a purpose: the expression of specific affetti, which was one of the features of the seconda prattica which emerged in Italy around 1600 and was soon embraced in other parts of Europe, especially in Germany. Italian composers travelled north and contributed to the dissemination of the new style. An anonymous Toccata in a minor is found in a Polish tablature and Marcin Świątkiewicz, in his liner-notes, suggests that the composer may have met Tarquinio Merula, who in the 1620s was employed by King Sigismund III Vasa in Warsaw. Merula was one of the exponents of the stile nuovo and his Capriccio cromatico is one of his best-known works. It is certainly true, as Świątkiewicz writes, that in the 17th and 18th centuries chromaticism was a rhetorical device. However, one cannot exclude the possibility that some composers applied it as an end in itself, as a way to explore the harmonic system and various tunings. The creation of harpsichords with more than 14 keys also points in that direction.
The programme is divided into two sections. For each of them Świątkiewicz uses a different harpsichord. For the tracks 1 to 7 (Soncino to Sweelinck) he plays an instrument, built by Detmar Hungerberg in 2012, which is based on early 17th-century Italian models. It has a short octave and split sharps (d-sharp/e-flat and g-sharp/a-flat), and is in meantone temperament. Whether that instrument is the most appropriate is a matter of debate. As we don't know Soncino's identity it is hard to say what kind of instrument suits him best. Froberger was a pupil of Frescobaldi, but that does not mean that an Italian instrument is the ideal tool for his oeuvre. The main problem seems John Bull, as Świątkiewicz acknowledges. "The note E sharp (enharmonically equivalent to an F) appears near the end of the Galliard. It is used as an argument for a well-tempered, or at least a non-meantone, enharmonic tuning system. Most likely, Bull did not have access to instruments with more than 14 notes within the octave. It also doesn't seem that the composer cares for the particularly dissonant effect of using the note F tuned in meantone temperament. For that reason, I made the anachronistic decision, but in line with contemporary recording possibilities, to record the phrase containing the E sharp after retuning the harpsichord. It is highly possible that the performance of these works on an Italian instrument tuned in the conventional meantone temperament is far removed from the composers' intention. But fortunately, copyright laws are a relatively new invention."
I find this very odd. "[It] might have been possible to find instruments that could fulfill the criteria of so called authenticity much better. However, historical accuracy and historically informed performance is not my goal; it is rather a tool - a very useful element in my workshop." The last statement is no contradiction to the first - on the contrary. Historical 'accuracy' - if ever that is possible - is the best way to reveal the real features of a composition. This also is true for the second half of the programme. Here Świątkiewicz plays an instrument, built in 2008 by Christian Fuchs after a Ruckers of 1624. Such instruments were known in France, although they were often the subject of a ravalement, an alteration and extension of the disposition and range. For the three French items this instrument seems appropriate, but probably far less so for Albero, Scarlatti and Soler. Bach also would fare better on a different instrument.
The choice of these particular instruments for the entire programme may be subject to criticism, there is nothing wrong with Świątkiewicz's performances - on the contrary. I have greatly enjoyed his playing, which is crisp and clear. He explores the contrasts within single pieces to the full, for instance in Froberger's Toccata II in d minor. Two chromatic masterworks, Sweelinck's Fantasia chromatica and Bach's Chromatic fantasia and fugue, receive splendid performances. In Soler's Fandango Świątkiewicz manages to keep the listener's attention through a differentiated interpretation. Albero's Recercata V is a rather bizarre piece, with an amount of chromaticism, which one expects from a 17th-century composer rather than one from the mid-18th century. It receives here a much more incisive performance than in the recording of Alejandro Casal, which I reviewed recently.
Despite a debatable choice of instruments, this is definitely a disc every lover of early keyboard music should add to his collection. The programme is quite original and includes many pieces which in their very own way don't fail to intrigue.
Johan van Veen
Contents Emanuell SONCINO (c1600-c1660)
Cromatica [3:00] John BULL (c1562-1628)
Chromatic Pavan [6:40]
Chromatic Galliard [3:06] Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667)
Toccata II in d minor (FbWV 102) [4:02] Tarquinio MERULA (c1595-1665)
Capriccio cromatico [3:38] anon (Przemyśl Tablature, c 1700)
Toccata in a minor [3:51] Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621)
Fantasia cromatica (SwWV 258) [8:23] Elisabeth JACQUET DE LA GUERRE (1665-1729)
Prélude in g minor [2:09] Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
L'Enharmonique [7:31] Jean-Baptiste-Antoine FORQUERAY (1699-1782)
La Marella [3:30] Sebastián DE ALBERO (1722-1756)
Recercata V in c minor [1:27] Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in c minor (K 58) [3:14] Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Chromatic fantasia and fugue in d minor (BWV 903) [12:12] Antonio SOLER (1729-1783)
Fandango in d minor (R 146) [10:52]