The Long 17th Century
Early Keyboard Works by Byrd, Buxtehude, Sweelinck, Locke, Tisdale, Tomkins, Frescobaldi et al
Daniel-Ben Pienaar (piano)
Avie AV 2415 150.08 mins (2 discs)
This cabinet of musical curiosities curated by pianist Daniel-Ben Pienaar showcases 36 works by as many composers, offering the listener a musical odyssey across 17th-century Europe. Alongside famous keyboard composers (Byrd, Buxtehude, Louis Couperin, Frescobaldi) are shadowy names like Arauxo, Bruna, Macedo and Schildt, and pieces recorded for the first time on the piano. Pienaar displays his collection thematically, connecting dances and variations, imitative and evocative works that suggest battles and birdsong, that paint portraits, tell stories and write elegies. It’s a deeply personal selection that makes for a captivating sequence.
The three-dozen works were originally conceived for a variety of instruments (harpsichord, organ virginals, clavichord, even viols, perhaps); it’s largely thanks to Pienaar’s fleet, supple technique and lucid part playing that these piano translations work so well. Particularly lovely are the more ruminative works – Macedo’s introspective Ricercar, the elegiac Tombeau by D’Anglebert, and the melancholy Pavans by Philips, Tomkins, Chambonnières – where the velvet resonance of the piano adds a poignant wistfulness. The instrument’s colouristic potential also allows Pienaar to highlight the chiaroscuro of Arauxo’s Tiento, or the pointillistic effects of Sweelinck’s Mein junges Leben. If the lively galliards sound a touch heavy on the piano, elsewhere no such problems arise: Pienaar makes light work of the virtuosic pieces, with their flashing scales and filigree ornaments. The recording is warm yet dry enough to ensure that complex contrapuntal textures never turn to mush.