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Benjamin Katz
American Record Guide, May 2011

Sweelinck’s keyboard oeuvre is well represented here in a program that includes contrapuntal pieces, variations on secular songs, and religious music. Rotaru is a nimble and expressive player.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Christopher Brodersen
Fanfare, May 2011

The music of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562–1621) is beloved by organists, and rightly so. The obligatory piece or two of Sweelinck will turn up now and again on organ recitals, especially those given by organ grad students at major conservatories. Sweelinck has been relatively neglected by harpsichordists, though, and there is a possible explanation for that. Since most of his music is manualiter (for manuals only without pedal), it falls to the performer to decide which pieces work best on harpsichord. I can imagine that the very act of sorting through the music has deterred a lot of them. Many pieces are effective on either instrument, but some, such as the Fantasia chromatica, should only be played on harpsichord, although that hasn’t stopped organists from trying. ...I have no hesitation in recommending the present Carpe Diem CD as the ideal place to start one’s exploration of Sweelinck’s harpsichord music.

Alina Rotaru is a young Rumanian harpsichordist who currently resides in Bremen, Germany. On the booklet cover her photograph shows a rather serious-looking young lady—perhaps the cares of the world are weighing down heavily on her. She can rest assured, however, that with playing as accomplished as this, she has a brilliant career ahead. Her keyboard work in the Fantasia chromatica is amazing. She starts out slowly and deliberately and then builds to a spectacular finish; the sweeping 32nd-note runs in the concluding section will take your breath away. The Ballet del granduca, often heard on organ recitals, is likewise given the grand treatment. Every tune is gauged perfectly, including the one that gives the CD its title, Fortune My Foe. It is based on a piece from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book by William Byrd, but with added embellishments and florid passages. Paduana lachrymae is a note-for-note transcription of Dowland’s famous Flow My Teares, surprisingly effective on the harpsichord. Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein is an elaboration of a Lutheran hymn tune, the sort of thing that Sebastian Bach would be famous for 100 years later. Mein junges Leben is Sweelinck’s complex and virtuosic rendition of a popular German song, while Malle Sijmen is a lighthearted version of an English folk song. The program concludes fittingly with John Bull’s Fantazia op de Fuga, a lament written in 1621 on the death of Sweelinck. Bull, Sweelinck, and Dowland were all born in the same year, and Bull, who lived in Antwerp, knew Sweelinck personally. The music of this era contains many fascinating cross-references and borrowings, nowhere more apparent than in the pieces that Rotaru has so aptly selected for this program.

Rotaru succeeds in this repertoire where others fail thanks to a rock-steady rhythmic pulse and honest, self-effacing musicianship. Although it’s often difficult to put a finger on it, her style is exactly right. I never get the feeling, for example, that she plays this music because it’s historically “important”; she plays it because she believes in it. The music comes through with all its brilliance and structural complexity intact, high praise indeed for any performer.

The harpsichord is a Ruckers copy by Fred Bettenhuasen of Haarlem, and it is the perfect choice for the music. Although no details are given, I presume from the sound that it’s a small, single-manual instrument with two eight-foot registers. The recorded sound leaves nothing to be desired. Urgently recommended

Charles T. Downey
Ionarts, January 2011

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562–1621), after making a career as an organist and composer of vocal music, acquired a Ruckers harpsichord in 1604. Although Sweelinck had succeeded his father in his position as a church organist, the organ had been banned in his native Amsterdam’s Calvinist churches soon after. Harpsichordist Alina Rotaru, born in Bucharest and trained in Germany, plays a selection of the composer’s works for harpsichord, on an instrument built by Fred Bettenhausen in Haarlem, with a Ruckers instrument as model. The selection of pieces, which are available on other recordings, is intended to provide a sort of tombeau for Sweelinck, drawing together his youthful triumphs (like the brilliant Fantasia chromatica) and expressions of the regrets of of old age (like the transcription of Dowland’s famous Pavana Lachrymae, recorded in the video embedded below), artful renderings of simple dances and secular songs, as well as of weightier pieces like Engelse Fortuin, a setting of the “hanging tune” Fortune, my foe, often played at executions.

The disc closes with pieces by Sweelinck’s contemporaries, including one extremely chromatic tribute to Sweelinck, Fantazia op de Fuga van M.J.P., made by John Bull upon hearing of Sweelinck’s death in 1621 (here the harpsichord’s temperament can curl your hair with all those half-steps). The sound is particularly satisfying (production by Jonas Niederstadt), capturing in vivid detail most of the core of the harpsichord’s sound without too much of the clattering action. Birds can be heard outside the St Johannis-Kirche in Arenshorst, Germany, singing in the silences, in the somber Ach Gott von Himmel sieh darein, a setting of a chorale of particularly Protestant fervor (the choice by the Catholic Sweelinck perhaps showing his malleable loyalty), among many other tracks. Rotaru has an accomplished, rather active, even flashy style of playing, heard in the crisp repeated notes, dotted groupings, and divisions of Mein junges Leben hat ein End’, for example. While this disc is not an easy one to recommend except for fans of the harpsichord, it is no surprise to learn that it has been nominated for the 2011 MIDEM “International Classical Music Award” in the Early Music category.

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