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Music from the era of Rembrandt van Rijn
Recording details not provided
Texts not included
ET'CETERA KTC1663 [4 CDs: 262:10]

On 4 October 1669, the painter Rembrandt van Rijn died in Amsterdam. He is generally considered the archetype of that famous Dutch school of painting in the 17th century, known as the Golden Age. It still amazes people around the world, and every year attracts thousands of art lovers to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which owns a large collection of Rembrandt’s paintings and drawings.

Artists at that time never worked in isolation. They received commissions to paint people from the upper echelons of society, and to make official portraits of town councils or the administrators of various institutions. They often also stood in close contact with other artists, not only fellow painters, but also musicians, writers and poets. The connection between Rembrandt and music has been the subject of recordings before. In 2006, when his birth in 1606 was commemorated, Brilliant Classics released a set of two discs, called “Music from the Golden age of Rembrandt”. The title already indicates that the connection between the painter and the music performed on those discs was rather loose. “We can hardly speak of a direct link between the work of Rembrandt and music. In comparison to his contemporaries he depicted only very few musicians and there are no acquaintances with musicians are known” (sic), Johannes Boer wrote in the booklet to that recording.

Earlier this year, Aeolus released a recording by the Dutch keyboard player Bob van Asperen, called “A Playlist for Rembrandt”. Its booklet includes a lengthy essay by Van Asperen, which shows that Boer’s statement does not hold any ground. In his preparation of his recording, Van Asperen did some research into the relationship between Rembrandt and music. “It was no little surprise to discover that musical elements play a role no less than eighty times in his oeuvre (...), while a considerable group of music lovers and musicians could be either traced or assumed within the painter’s circle”. Moreover, in several paintings there are references to music, for instance in Rembrandt’s depiction of the biblical story of Saul and David. Van Asperen also notices the particular way in which Rembrandt treats music. “Here the playing at times surpasses the player, when the painter manages to capture the soul of the music through a deeply rooted musical sensibility”. This probably can be explained by the fact that Rembrandt very likely was skilled in playing various instruments. In some of his paintings he portrays himself as a singer, a player of the recorder and possibly even a harpist. Van Asperen also points out the many contacts between Rembrandt and the most prominent musicians of his time, such as Sweelinck, Van Noordt, Padbrué and Huygens. Here the liner notes turn into a fascinating sketch of the social circles of poets, musicians, painters and scientists, who stood in more or less close contact.

Apparently the author of the liner notes to the Et'cetera production reviewed here was not aware of the results of Van Asperen’s research. He expresses the general opinion about the connection between Rembrandt and the musical world of his time as Johannes Boer did in his booklet. These liner notes, rather general, give little information about most of the composers included in this set. Among the exceptions are Sweelinck, Huygens and Van Eyck. They represent three of the main towns of the 17th-century Netherlands: Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. The second disc also mentions the fourth, Rotterdam, but the liner notes fail to make clear which part of the music performed here has anything to do with Rotterdam. A look in New Grove reveals that Jan Baptist Verrijt was organist in Rotterdam for the last six years of his life. However, he spent most of his career in the Catholic part of the Low Countries and the Spanish Netherlands. There can be little doubt that the motets included here were written during that time, when he was still a Catholic.

It is one of the many unsatisfying features of this production. It includes a wide variety of music, but the connection to Rembrandt is often rather unclear. The third disc, for instance, offers two pieces by Clemens non Papa and Lassus respectively, two composers from the 16th century and therefore well before Rembrandt’s time. At the other end of the spectrum, the first two discs include some pieces by David Petersen, who was just eighteen years old when Rembrandt died. The inclusion of pieces from other countries is much more plausible. Thanks to the many trade connections between the Netherlands and other parts of Europe, music from France, Italy, Germany and England became quite well known to Dutch music lovers and amateur players of instruments, such as the recorder and the viola da gamba. Moreover, both parts of the Netherlands were centres of music publishing, and several collections of, for instance, Italian music, were printed at a later time in Amsterdam or Antwerp.

The performances of such music have sometimes a clear Dutch flavour. The ensemble More Maiorum, for instance, performs Italian sacred concertos to an accompaniment of recorder, violin and basso continuo. That is a line-up which is very un-Italian. In Italy, such pieces were usually performed with two violins or cornetts. Music making at home was more popular in the Netherlands than anywhere else, so there was much demand for pieces that could be performed on the recorder. No wonder, then, that this instrument plays a particularly important role in this production.

When I put this production on my list of discs I would like to review, I was not sure what to expect. I was hoping for some interesting new recordings. Unfortunately, there is nothing new here. All the pieces are selected from discs previously released, either by Et'cetera or by other labels. A considerable number of them I already knew, and several I have in my collection. From that perspective, this set of four discs is no substantial addition to the catalogue. However, it could serve as a nice introduction to the musical world of Rembrandt, had the production not have many flaws.

As I already indicated, the liner notes do not go into any detail about the composers and their music, and it is often unclear why specific pieces have been included. The fact that the booklet omits any texts is a serious shortcoming. Moreover, the track lists on the rear of every disc are rather sloppy. Only labels and numbers are mentioned, but not the titles of the original discs. The listing of the performers also leaves much to be desired. The second disc opens with Jacob van Eyck’s arrangement of Psalm 103 on the melody from the Genevan Psalter. It is taken from a disc of the ensemble Camerata Trajectina, but it is played on the carillon. However, the carillonneur is not mentioned. The same goes for Henderick Speuij’s arrangement of Psalm 116; the player, Pieter-Jan Belder, is not mentioned, nor is the harpsichordist of the ensemble B’Rock, Frank Agsteribbe, who plays the pieces by Steenwick and two anonymous composers on that same disc (Tricabylle, Amarillis, Daphe). The motets by Verrijt are performed by “The Concert of Musicke”; that should be The Consort of Musicke, of course. The pieces by Constantijn Huygens are not sung by Anne Grimm, as the track list says, but only by the bass Peter Kooij (CD 2, tracks 7 to 11) and the tenor Nico van der Meel (CD 2, tracks 13 to 15); the latter is not mentioned at all, nor are the instrumentalists who accompany the singers. The first disc includes some songs by Jacob Cats, according to the track list. However, he is merely the author of the text: he was a poet, not a composer. The tunes are all anonymous. As far as possible, I have corrected the many mistakes and omissions in the track list at the end of this review.

Fortunately, the performances are mostly rather good, although the Camerata Trajectina is hardly a first-class ensemble. Especially in the more serious stuff, they cannot compete with the best. In contrast, the Netherlands Chamber Choir is a top ensemble, and its performances of Sweelinck’s psalms are pretty good. However, in recent years the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam recorded Sweelinck’s entire vocal oeuvre, and those performances do much more justice to their character and to the way these pieces were performed in Sweelinck’s time.

All in all, this production is rather unsatisfying. It is well below the standard one may expect from a label which takes itself seriously.

Johan van Veen

CD 1
[Leiden - Amsterdam]
Cornelis SCHUYT (1557-1616)
Voi bramata [04:14]
Netherlands Chamber Choir/Paul Van Nevel
Anthoni VAN NOORDT (1619-1675)
Fantasia I in d minor [04:55]
Leo van Doeselaar (organ)
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621)
Pseaume 23: Mon Dieu me paist* [07:49]
Pseaume 77: A Dieu ma voix** [04:42]
Pseaume 114: Quand Israel** [02:39]
Mein junges Leben hat ein End** [06:59]
Netherlands Chamber Choir/Philippe Herreweghe*, Paul Van Nevel**
David PETERSEN (1651-1737)
Speelstuk for violin and bc No. 1 in D [09:21]
Schoon bloem-gewas [02:12]
Liedt van een trouwhatende [02:24]
De maeght in de borst [03:19]
Klaegt-lied van Dina [03:34]
Klachte van de dochter [04:57]
Camerata Trajectina
Amarillis [03:13]
Brabantse dragondermars [01:02]
Pieter-Jan Belder (virginals)
Fantasia III in e minor [06:34]
Leo van Doeselaar (organ)
Claude GOUDIMEL (1500/14-1572)
Psalm 91: [Die in Godes bewaring’ sterck] [03:01]
Camerata Trajectina
Nicolas VALLET (1583-1642)
Pseaume 12 [05:35]
Louis Peter Grijp (lute)
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK
Pseaume 51: Misericorde au povre vicieux [03:28]
Camerata Trajectina

CD 2
[Amsterdam - Rotterdam - The Hague - Utrecht]
Jacob VAN EYCK (1589/90-1657)
Psalm 103 [05:31]
Arie Abbenes (carillon)
Jan Baptist VERRIJT (c1600-1650)
Vulnera cor meum [03:56]
O dulcis amor [03:09]
Ah, horrida bella [03:04]
Vulnerasti cor meum [02:31]
The Consort of Musicke/Anthony Rooley
Onse vader in Hemelryck [04:49]
Saskia Coolen (recorder)
Constantijn HUYGENS (1596-1687)
Domine ne in furore [02:02]
Avertisti faciem [03:14]
Quare tristis est [02:17]
Erravi Domine [03:16]
De profundis clamavi [03:49]
Peter Kooij (baritone), Mieneke van der Velden (viola da gamba), Mike Fentross (theorbo), Leo van Doeselaar (organ)
Preludium [00:44]
Peter van Heyghen (recorder)
Constantijn HUYGENS
Con la candida man [02:29]
Va donna ingrata [02:27]
Que ferons-nous [02:07]
Nico van der Meel (tenor), Mieneke van der Velden (viola da gamba), Mike Fentross (theorbo), Leo van Doeselaar (organ)
Onnutt’ en schadelijcken arbeydt [02:32]
Camerata Trajectina
Henderick SPEUIJ (1575-1625)
Psalm 116 [01:35]
Ghisbert VAN STEENWICK (1605-1679)
Tricabylle [03:48]
Amarillis [03:20]
Daphne [04:49]
Frank Agsteribbe (harpsichord)
Speelstuk for violin and bc No. 10 in e minor [05:32]

CD 3
[Flanders - Italy]
Jacobus CLEMENS non Papa (c1510-c1556)
Carole Magnus eras [05:56]
Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594)
Tristis est anima mea [02:33]
Carlo FARINA (c1600-1639)
Pavana 1 (Libro II) [06:21]
Aria francesa (Libro (I) [01:27]
Pavana 2 (Libro IV) [06:20]
Gagliarda 8 (Libro IV) [01:06]
Il Concerto delle Viole
Tarquinio MERULA (1594-1665)
Chiacona [03:02]
Maurizio CAZZATI (1616-1678)
Plaudite (motetto per un Sancto) [08:47]
Nicolaes A KEMPIS (c1600-1676)
Symphonia II [04:55]
Gasparo CASATI (c1610-1641)
O bone Jesu [04:58]
Dario CASTELLO (before 1600-1644)
Sonata VIII [04:32]
Nicolaes A KEMPIS
Symphonia V [03:58]
Constanze Backes (soprano), More Maiorum/Peter Van Heyghen

CD 4
[Across the Channel - Germany]
Christopher SIMPSON (1602-1669)
Divisions for treble viol, bass viol and keyboard III [03:25]
Divisions for treble viol, bass viol and keyboard II [01:31]
L’Art du Bois
Francesco CORBETTA (1615-1681)
La Sarabande, Tombeau sur la mort de Madame d’Orléans [03:34]
Maria Ferré (guitar)
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Dioclesian (Z 627):
Chaconne Two in one upon a ground [03:03]
L’Art du Bois
John JENKINS (1592-1678)
Sonata a 2 viole da gamba in d minor [04:20]
Wieland Kuijken, Roberto Gini (viola da gamba), Mario Martinoli (organ)
William LAWES (1602-1645)
Fantasia Suite in C [11:47]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK
Allemand [03:55]
Kris Verhelst (harpsichord)
Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (c1595-1665)
Englische Mascarata [03:44]
Pieter Dirksen (harpsichord)
Johann Jacob WALTHER (c1650-1717)
Aria in e minor [05:41]
Imitatione del cuccu [07:55]
Pavlo Beznosiuk (violin), Paula Chateauneuf (theorbo), Timothy Roberts (organ)
Johannes SCHENCK (1660-c1720)
Sonata III in g minor, op. 3,3 [11:16]
La Suave Melodia/Pieter Dirksen

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