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Evan Dickerson
MusicWeb International, March 2005

"Over the past few years CDs have increasingly found their way into the gift shops of museums to accompany major exhibitions as a struggling classical music industry seeks an ever wider market. This series clearly aims to fit such a niche and also address other potential audiences. So, what then is the target audience for such a CD? Art lovers wanting to discover music, or vice versa? Someone with a non-specialist interest in both areas? Your kids? Granny at Christmas?

These questions led me to consider the points from another angle – what actually is more important here – the art or the music? The work of the artist, Vermeer, is more widely known and his work more easily identifiable than that of Nauwach, Scheidemann or Hammerschmidt, to name but three composers included here. In this respect Naxos have approached the selection of artists in this series with a degree of good judgement and market awareness.

The booklet note is a little short on substance to be as educational as Naxos might wish, but it does try within the confines of eight pages to outline the nature of reality and painting – you could fill the space with this alone – and provide something about Vermeer, the associated composers and their music. There are also five decently reproduced Vermeer paintings that show the concern with depicting amateur musicians and keyboard instruments in his work. The chronology and sung texts / translations are useful additions to assist in getting your bearings.

What of the recordings themselves? Well, they are extracts for the most part, which leads to the inevitable frustrations inherent with hearing ‘bleeding chunks’ out of context. Composers of this era (1632-1675: Vermeer’s lifespan) tend to be occasional rather than essential listening for me. I was prepared for decent performances but on the whole not much more.

Funny how having low expectations can lead to some rich rewards. A highlight for me was Heinrich Scheidemann’s ‘Praeambulum in C’, played on a rich-toned and nicely voiced organ. Martin Hummel’s baritone is well suited to the music sung. He is an artist I would like to hear more of now but perhaps in more diversified repertoire. The choral works, although well performed with pleasing solo voices, merely confirmed the fact that Byrd, Charpentier and Buxtehude are not exactly for me. I am sure others will warm to the works more than I did.

The two sets of harpsichord music by Louis Couperin illustrate the difference that can be made by matching an appropriate instrument to the music. Glen Wilson’s harpsichord, although of decent sound, shows up a slight lack of crispness in his playing, compared to that of Laurence Cummings. His instrument, recorded slightly more forward and brighter of tone is also more appealing.

n interesting release if you want a taster of mid-seventeenth century music, but the knowledgeable should go straight to the complete recordings."

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