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GRAMOPHONE (Awards Issue /2012)
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GCD922407 (12 CD)

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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch

Accomplished, extrovert performances of music that’s well worth hearing


This two-volume set is the second part of a projected “Sweelinck Monument”, which aims to present the famous keyboard composer’s less well known complete vocal works, the first part of which – devoted to his secular music – appeared a couple of years ago. Sweelinck’s style in these pieces reminds me of musicians like his fellow organist Peter Philips. Even when setting popular or even famous texts (try his O sacrum convivium) he often finds a clever touch, and his many Alleluias brim over with enthusiasm.


The Sweelinck monument is clearly a labour of love on the part of the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam and its director, the superlative bass Harry van der Kamp. As such it’s a fitting counterpart to the admirable recording of Sweelinck’s complete keyboard oeuvre, issued in 2002 (NM Classics, 11/02).

With its sunny and extrovert timbre, the ensemble is at its best in the composer’s lovely Christmas motets, of which the catchy Hodie Christus natus est has long been a personal favourite. But the singers don’t quite hit the mark when a darker tone seems called for: a case in point is the chromaticism of the De profundis, which has little gravity. It’s surprising, therefore, that they should choose to retain sopranos on top lines in such cases, when the male voices might have sufficed (only listen to them dispatch the musically slight but charming Vanitas vanitatum, SWWV199). This is fine singing but one does occasionally feel that the music ought to have elicited a more searching response.


If this is to be the only intégrale of his Cantiones sacrae, however, then van der Kamp and his friends have served their hero well enough. There are neat little programming touches too. Four little canons are included, very short pieces written as dedications to the composer’s friends – so short that they can be sung in a loop, and in one case the music is allowed to fade out, pop track style: knowing, but nicely done.

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