Notes and Editorial Reviews
Following his acclaimed Linn debut, One Byrde in Hande, Richard Egarr turns to the music of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck for his new recording of fantasias, toccatas and variations. As well as being a notable composer Sweelinck was a skilled improviser and keyboard virtuoso whose knowledge of the stylistic innovations of his English contemporaries, such as Byrd and Morley, was evident in his work. Egarr performs on a harpsichord designed after Ruckers (1638); its strict ¼-comma meantone tuning highlights the amazing chromaticism present in Sweelinck’s music. This is particularly evident in the famous Fantasia Crommatica, a highly improvisatory, boundary-pushing work that showcases many of Sweelinck’s innovations in keyboard composition. Within his lifetime Sweelinck was most celebrated for his variations on the popular tune Mein junges Leben hat ein Endt; Egarr relishes the intricate counterpoint which builds from the simple theme into a masterpiece of inexhaustible invention and limitless variety. A selection of fantasias and toccatas complete the programme in which Egarr’s passion for the harpsichord and Sweelinck’s music are enthusiastically conveyed.
Here’s a disc you won’t want to overlook if you’re a proto-baroque keyboard person. Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621) was a splendid, innovative composer whose music sort of hovers on the edge of our musical consciousness. Even the notes by Richard Egarr, while full of enthusiasm and interesting information on the man and his times, have a curiously quizzical quality–almost as if he’s surprised to find himself taking on this repertoire. Well, why on earth not? It’s great stuff.
If you look up some of the more famous individual works here on Google, such as the Fantasia Crommatica or the variations on the tune Mein junges Leben hat ein Endt, you’re likely to find a comment such as “Work X is Sweelinck’s keyboard masterpiece.” Of course they can’t all be that, but they are pretty terrific. In addition to these relatively popular (or at least not unknown) pieces, Egarr throws in a few virtuoso toccatas, a splendid set of variations on Dowland’s Paduana Lachrimae (a genuine “greatest hit,” that), and the extensive, exciting “Ut re mi fa sol la” fantasy to conclude. Most of these works, whatever their technical name, are sets of variations, either free or strict, and a joy to follow. Sweelinck was a master at this sort of thing, plain and simple.
For this program, Egarr uses his “trusty” Ruckers-copy harpsichord–you know, the usual one he keeps in the living room rather than the funky one sitting in the garage–tuned is some fashion we don’t need to care about other than to say that the instrument sounds lovely and permits us to listen without the kind of aural fatigue that often sets in after a few minutes with a less appealing instrument. The sonics, too, present the music in a lively but not overly bright acoustic, permitting the necessary clarity of detail in a way that never turns coldly clinical. This is, in short, a first-class program of first-class music by a composer you should get to know. I suspect you will find yourself returning to it often.
– ClassicsToday (David Hurwitz)