Sweelinck: Music for Harpsichord- Fantasia Cromatica / Echo Fantasia
Award-winning American keyboard-player Glen Wilson follows up his acclaimed releases of Buxtehude' harpsichord music "strongly gestural and rhetorical", Couperin' Tombeau de M. de Blancrocher "considerable technical virtuosity", Farnaby' Harpsichord
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One of the major challenges in Sweelinck's keyboard music (and also in the music of other composers of the period) is to decide on which instrument it should be played. In the published collections, most composers would write in the title that the different pieces included were for harpsichord or organ. However, it is hard to decide which piece should be played on which instrument, since it is not specified on the sheet music. The performer needs to determine the instrument to use by looking at the sheet music and, according to the technical aspect of the piece, decide on the most appropriate instrument to perform it. Some compositions heard on this recording require two manuals, which we know was a feature included on Dutch harpsichords, especially those made by Ruckers (a Ruckers copy made by Henk van Schevikhoven is used for this recording). Thus, the theory that Sweelinck's works for two manuals had to be played on the organ is dismissed, and one should look deeper into the sheet music to find the perfect instrument to play it on.
One of the highlights of the recording is the Fantasia Cromatica (track 3). It is simply a tour-de-force. Long before Bach tried on this concept with his Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue (BWV 903), Sweelinck got his hands on it. The dissonances were a new concept in the era, inspired by the new style developed by the Gabrielis in Venice. The goal of chromaticism was to be more expressive, especially in vocal music (Monteverdi used this technique a lot in his madrigals). The Dutch composer masters this aspect, and the progression of the different chords shows a mastery of composition worthy of a Beethoven sonata.
The Variations on "Est-ce Mars" is another favorite from Sweelinck's output. Here, he demonstrates, in a set of 7 variations, how to develop a melody while changing the harmonic colors, using different meters, or enriching the melody with new note figures. Each variation explores a different technique. By listening to this recording, one can appreciate Sweelinck's talent as a keyboard composer, which ranks him not only as one of the best, but possibly as the best composer during the Renaissance-Baroque transition period.