Sweelinck: Fantasias, Toccatas & Variations

Richard Egarr harpsichord
Linn Records CKD 589

This recording has all the signs of having been a labour of love for Richard Egarr who self-confessedly set out to to make the music vibrant and exciting, rather than what he sees as the non-expressive and detached (aka ‘colourless and academic’) way Sweelinck has traditionally been performed. I’m not sure that’s a fair judgement of all previous recordings but this one does certainly succeed in bringing the music to life. Beautifully recorded on Egarr’s own Ruckers copy by Joel Katzman at 393 Hz, with a close-up acoustic, it successfully recreates the sort of genial late-night domestic music-making among friends which Willem Baudartius described in Sweelinck’s Amsterdam house (referred to in Egarr’s sleeve note). The playing reflects that milieu too, never too showy but always firmly committed and showing a deep-rooted understanding of each of the genres represented. He starts with an extended Praeludium Toccata [Seiffert 21] which shows the full breadth of Sweelinck’s art and its debt to his English musical forbears. In some ways the four toccatas are the star pieces here, giving scope for both careful voice-leading and virtuosity. Five extended fantasias provide intellectual heft, including one on the hexachord which starts conventionally but ends in a riot of scales in all directions. The Fantasia Crommatica gets a particularly fine performance as do two sets of variations. The booklet gives us Egarr’s personal rationale for the recording but nothing much about the actual music. In this fine recording, he is probably entitled to assume that it can speak for itself.

Noel O’Regan

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