The Art of Heinrich Scheidemann

Le Concert Brisé
Accent ACC24302

Working in the first half of the 17th century, Scheidemann was primarily an improviser on the keyboard, so as the programme note points out what we have of his music are only fragments which he decided to write down. The present recording is a further remove as it presents mainly arrangements of Scheidemann’s keyboard musings on the work of his contemporaries Hassler, Bassano, Michael Praetorius, Lassus and Dowland. After an ear-grabbing organ Praeambulum, organist Jean-Christophe Leclere is joined by a succession of instrumentalists from the Concert singly, in pairs and trios, for performances he originally wrote for organ or harpsichord. After overcoming the initial question of why the performers have chosen this mode of performance when Scheidemann clearly had a solo keyboard in mind, the arrangements with their scampering violin, cornet and recorder are generally pleasantly effective. The Italian Baroque organ plays very much a supporting role, remaining on pretty colourless and sometimes overly wheezy stops, while the solo instruments take the limelight. Scheidemann seems a bit of a chameleon, taking on the character of the wide range of composers he uses as models. Particularly unusual are the concluding three dance variations, but then we should bear in mind that they were devised by Scheidemann for harpsichord so part of the peculiarity undoubtedly lies in the arrangements. Nevertheless Scheidemann shines through as a musician of imagination and originality, and the CD serves as a useful reminder that organist/composers up to and including the great J. S. Bach were admired in their lifetimes chiefly for their ability to improvise, of which only scant evidence has survived.

D. James Ross