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Sweelinck – The Art of Variation

Fabio Antonio Falcone (harpsichord) (Challenge Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

The Art of Variation
Fabio Antonio Falcone (harpsichord)
Challenge Classics CC 72926   58:42 mins

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The ‘Orpheus of Amsterdam’, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck lived through the autumn of the Renaissance and the springtime of the Baroque. His role as city organist enabled him to flex his creative muscles well beyond the confines of liturgical music, and this felicitous recording reveals something of his versatility. One side of the composer’s musical persona emerges in melancholy works like Ich fuhr mich über Rheine, based on the song ‘I have sailed on the Rhine’ and transformed into a feast of rich counterpoint, eloquently realised here by Fabio Falcone. Falcone also brings an aptly ruminative quality to Sweelinck’s wistful pavans: two reworkings of John Dowland’s celebrated Lachrimae and the Pavana Philippi whose liquid lines weave a poetic homage to the English priest-composer Peter Philips.

Quite a different side of Sweelinck’s character surfaces in a handful of lighter pieces, including the Allemande Gratie, whose playful, at times capricious variations give an idea of the composer’s celebrated improvisatory skills, and Unter der Linden grüne, based on a popular song known in England as ‘All in a garden green’, embellished and pliantly articulated in this performance. Falcone’s sinewy technique highlights the robust rhythms of Sweelinck’s many dance-inspired pieces, notably the stately allemande Esce mars, the Pavana Hispanica and the Ballo di Gran Duca – a showcase of athletic passagework and figurations. Throughout, the playing is poised, gracious and rhetorically phrased. The historic harpsichord (preserved in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Neuchâtel) is by Sweelinck’s Flemish contemporary Johannes Ruckers – its sound burnished, resonant, voluminous.

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Kate Bolton-Porciatti