Sweelinck: Keyboard works (complete)

COMPOSERS: Sweelinck
LABELS: NM Classics
WORKS: Keyboard works (complete)
PERFORMER: Bernard Winsemius, Peter van Dijk, Freddy Eichelberger, Leo van Doeselaar, Bert Matter, Vincent van Laar, Stef Tuinstra, Reinhard Jaud, Liuwe Tamminga (organ), Pieter Dirksen, Siebe Henstra, Bob van Asperen, Pieter-Jan Belder, Menno van Delft, Glen Wilson
CATALOGUE NO: 92119 (distr. One for You)
This mammoth undertaking presents every keyboard work from those ‘reliably’ by Sweelinck, through those ‘doubtfully’ and ‘probably incorrectly’ attributed, to a handful of ‘anonymously transmitted compositions from Sweelinck’s circle’. Some are recorded twice, on both organ and harpsichord, a total of 109 pieces on nine discs – truly ‘Sweelinck plus’.


The presentation of such a potentially daunting mass of little-known repertoire (two-thirds of it new to the catalogue) is inspired, both visually and, most importantly, in the programming. A substantial hardback booklet contains accessibly written articles: on the pieces themselves – helpfully classified, and almost every one touched on briefly – the organs and harpsichords of the early 17th century and the sources of the music. The authors’ scholarly credentials are impeccable, their enthusiasm self-evident.

But most ingenious is the musical programming. Each of nine organists and six harpsichordists is assigned a complete ‘recital’ of an attractive variety of pieces – prelude-like toccatas, fantasias of extraordinary contrapuntal inventiveness and sets of variations clothing the simplest tunes in progressive patterns of motif and texture. Players are subtly matched to instruments. Bert Matter, organist of St Walburgiskerk in Zutphen, tames the seven-second reverberation threatening the huge organ there – the staccato imitations of an ‘echo fantasia’ sparkle against legato chords each melting into the next. Peter van Dijk warms the dry acoustic of a church in Blessum on a single-manual organ with pull-down pedals but no independent pedal pipes. Vincent van Laar, on a German Schnitger organ, plays a set of variations with an expressive rubato reflecting a contemporary account of Sweelinck’s own improvising.

The harpsichords are an original instrument by Ruckers (there’s a fascinating account of the detective work authenticating its use here), and two modern copies. I’d have gladly settled for the original only, wonderfully rich throughout in contrast to the more mild-mannered trebles of the copies. Bob van Asperen handles it dramatically in a chromatic fantasia, meantone tuning creating strikingly unequal semitones, swirling ever downwards like an Escher staircase. Glen Wilson displays its gentler face in Sweelinck’s variations on Dowland’s ‘Lachrymae’ theme, tender decorations intensifying the poignancy of the original.


Organs are notoriously difficult to record: too distant and the upperwork vanishes in a reverberant mist, too close and it takes on a harshness unfaithful to the builder’s intentions. Van Dijk, producer as well as performer, balances the demands to perfection. Harpsichords, too, are alive but mercifully free of percussive mechanism. This huge but accessible archive is an outstanding achievement.