Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621)
Keyboard Works
Andrea Vivanet (piano)
rec. 2023, Studio C-Arts Classical Arts Wadegg & Hajek, Vienna, Austria
Piano Classics PCL10280 [59]

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck was one of the most significant composers of keyboard composition straddling the end of the Renaissance period to the beginning of the Baroque. His high reputation as a teacher gave rise to the establishment of the north German organ tradition. In fact, his keyboard works represent the highest development of the Dutch keyboard school. His influence was considerable, extending as far as Buxtehude and J.S. Bach. As a teacher, his pupils included Heinrich Scheidemann, Jacob Praetorius and Samuel Scheidt. He was employed by the city of Amsterdam as organist of the Oude Kerk for 44 years until his death in 1621. In the Calvanist Church at the time, organ music was confined to before and after the service, but not during. Sweelinck’s duties were generally to give concerts for the public and visitors. He was a master improviser, and became known as the ‘Orpheus of Amsterdam’.

Sweelinck’s extant keyboard oeuvre comprises some 70 pieces. The Italian pianist Andrea Vivanet has chosen a selection of 14, representing the various genres. So there are toccatas, fantasias and sets of variations. I’ve only ever heard this music performed on an organ and harpsichord, so I was keen to hear them in a modern piano rendition. The results are very pleasing.

The Toccatas hold a central importance in the composer’s keyboard output. The Toccata noni toni, SwWV 297, a splendid curtain raiser to the disc, begins in slow fashion as many of the Toccatas do, only to become more animated as it progresses. Toccata secondi toni, SwWV 292 follows a similar pattern. Vivanet negotiates the rapid figurations of the Toccata 9 toni, SwWV 296 with pellucid transparency and precision.

There are five sets of Variations included, and Sweelinck reveals himself a dab hand in this genre. He takes his themes from popular songs such as ‘More Palatino’, ‘Mein junges Leben hat ein Endt’ and ‘Onder een linde groen’. The structure of the themes are retained throughout, but the variations are imaginatively wrought and intriguingly inventive. Intricate counterpoint is a notable feature, and this adds considerably to the music’s limitless invention.

The two Echo Fantasias have an improvisatory feel to them, especially SwWV 253 which ends the disc. It’s charm resides in its playfulness and congeniality. Here, a simple idea undergoes wide-ranging exploration and infinite resourcefulness.

This is a most enjoyable disc, and Vivanet has a complete grasp of the idiom, delivering stylish and characterful readings. His ornamentation is particularly effective. There’s a lovely transparency to the piano sound, allowing detail to emerge with clarity and definition, however I did find the pianist’s colour range somewhat limited.  The recording venue is sympathetic to the cause. Booklet notes by Norbert Florian Schuck, in English only, give a fascinating background to the composer’s life. 

Stephen Greenbank

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Toccata noni toni, SwWV 297
Echo fantasia (à 4: Écho), SwWV 261
Toccata, SwWV 283
Variations on “More Palatino”, SwWV 318
Toccata secondi toni, SwWV 292
Variations on “Mein junges Leben hat ein End“, SwWV 324
Toccata à 4, SwWV 298
Variations on “Onder een linde groen”, SwWV 325
Toccata 9 toni, SwWV 296
Variations on “Soll es sein”, SwWV 330
Toccata primi toni, SwWV 286
Variations on “Ballo del granduca”, SwWV 319
Toccata, SwWV 285
Echo fantasia, SwWV 253