LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Te Deum laudamus; Ainsi qu’on oit le cerf bruire; Magnificat; Beati pauperes; Reveillez vous chacun fidèle etc
PERFORMER: Capella Amsterdam/Daniel Reuss
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902033
In Calvinist Amsterdam, music was barely used in worship, so Sweelinck’s duties as organist of the Oude Kerk were to provide concert music and compose pieces for domestic performance.
This revealing disc contrasts two styles of vocal ensemble, six settings of Psalms in French and four fine pieces of Latin polyphony.
The Psalms were familiar as single-line chants and each is introduced here with a unison verse before breaking into Sweelinck’s polyphonic elaboration. They’re largely syllabic, following the tradition of the French Chanson, and Cappella Amsterdam sing them beautifully, though soft consonants and the spacious acoustic of the Walloon Church in Amsterdam slightly cloud their diction.
Sweelinck was sparing with word-painting, though instances such as the chromatically falling ‘tears’ of Psalm 42 are striking.
The dark sombre mood of the penitential Psalm 130, ‘Out of the deep’, evokes adventurously shifting harmonies which momentarily test the singers’ intonation (supported, the notes affirm, by continuo though, if present, it remains inaudible).
The Latin settings use more expansive lines and descriptions – the Magnificat’s ‘rich are sent empty away’ with a lone cadential voice; the ‘hungry’ of the Beatitudes ‘filled’ with multiple repetitions of one motivic fragment. Expressive, affectionate singing of music which closed the polyphonic age in northern Europe. George Pratt