Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Basso Ostinato - Passacaglias anf Chaconnes" recorded on harpsichord by Pieter-Jan Belder

Detail from harpsichord by Titus Crijnen after Blanchet, decorated by Elena Felipe after Huet. Photo: Pieter-Jan Belder
In the pieces recorded on “Basso Ostinato - Passacaglias & Chaconnes”, Dutch artist Pieter-Jan Belder presents a study of ostinato pieces of English and European composers of the 16th to 18th centuries. In his liner notes, Belder draws our attention to the fact that not all the pieces here are chaconnes or passacailles, “but all kinds of pieces that feature a certain obsessive repetition, usually on a harmonic basis” and that “all of these pieces are in fact dances”.

The disc opens with the artist’s vibrant and inspired playing of Giovanni Picchi’s sophisticated “Pass’e Mezzo” from “Intovalatura di Balli d’Arpichordo” (1621), with the occasional dissonant element gracing an ornamental phrase end and buoyant playing of its florid sections. The “Ciaconna” of another Italian, Bernardo Storace, from "Selva di varie compositioni d'intavolatura per cimbalo ed organo" (1664), the Sicilian composer’s only surviving body of work, features in the standard repertoire of today's keyboard players, and for a good reason! Belder’s reading of the virtuoso piece is bracing and stylish. One of Girolamo Frescobaldi’s greatest works is his “Cento Partite sopra Passacagli”. It happens to be both a newly composed piece as well as a pastiche of early compositions. In its lengthy but engaging musical tripartite study of the relationship of the passacaglia and chaconne, the work bristles with harmonic variety, daring and sometimes disturbing enharmonic- and meter changes, as well as changes of mode. Suggesting different moods, Belder’s playing of the hundred-or-so variations highlights the (often sudden) contrasts inherent in Frescobaldi's diverse and bold musical language.

In a very different vein is the popular and dazzling Fandango in D minor R146, attributed to Padre Antonio Soler and based on a 12-note repeating sequence in the left hand. Its challenging text, brimful with hand-crossing, trills and syncopations, is referred to by Belder as “one of the most technically demanding harpsichord pieces I know”. Belder takes on board the dance’s fiery Spanish character, its variety of ideas and its unrelenting, unleashed energy...certainly a puzzling piece coming from the pen of a priest. It also emerges as a strange bedfellow among the other works of a more aristocratic character represented on the disc.

Nowadays, we seem to be more familiar with some wonderful choral music of Thomas Tomkins, but, bearing the influence of his teacher William Byrd, Tomkins, the last of the English virginalists (actually, he was Welsh) has left quite a body of keyboard music. His Ground MB39 is based on a very small fragment, the inventive treatment and bravura demands of which being more interesting than its repetitive melodic content. As to Henry Purcell’s “A New Ground”, Belder gives poignant expression to its bittersweet quality, floating the soprano solo above the three-bar ostinato in touching, cantabile delivery.

Crossing the English Channel to France, Pieter-Jan Belder’s majestic performance of Louis Marchand’s Chaconne in D minor (1702) goes hand-in-glove with the style brisé of 17th century clavecin tradition, the artist’s reading graced with ample noble spreads and a touch of the Italianate style. If Louis Couperin’s unmeasured writing aimed to inspire the player to address the text, to dip into the palette of his imagination, yet in an orderly manner, this is indeed the result here. In Belder’s recording of Couperin’s Prélude and Passacaille he infuses his stately rendition of these true gems with clear direction, fantasy, personal expression, tranquil grace and a touch of reflective melancholy.

In his Passacaglia in G minor, from “Apparatus musico-organisticus” (1690), Georg Muffat, one of the Baroque’s most cosmopolitan composers, mingles French and Italian styles employing the French rondeau technique with variations which are structured around five repetitions of a basic refrain. Displaying its variety and invention, Belder’s masterful, noble and dazzling performance of the work is indeed in keeping with the composer’s own suggestion of performing the Apparatus pieces …”in connection with entertainments given by great princes and lords, for receptions of distinguished guests, and at state banquets, serenades, and academies of musical amateurs and virtuosi.” On this disc, Pieter-Jan Belder adds his name to the many who have made transcriptions for harpsichord and other instruments of J.S.Bach’s Chaconne for violin solo from Partita No.2, BWV 1004. Listening to Belder’s rendition, one becomes acutely aware of the artist’s rich vision of the piece through the prism of the harpsichord, its flexibility and its technical and emotional potential, as he takes his listener through ravishing, opulent, extraverted sections and into sections that are fragile and personal. Using such Baroque measures as 'notes inégales' and the gamut of ornamentation, Belder takes the liberty to enrich some of the many spreads with just a few more zestful notes than possible on the violin. Belder’s is a bracing, fresh, wholehearted presentation and one bristling with interest. I think Bach would really like it.

In his flourishing career as harpsichordist, clavichord player, organist, fortepianist and recorder player, Pieter-Jan Belder has so far made over 140 recordings. The works heard in “Basso Ostinato - Passacaglias & Chaconnes”, for the Brilliant Classics label, are performed on harpsichords by Cornelius Bom after Giusti (2003), Titus Crijnen after Blanchet (2013) and Titus Crijnen after Ruckers (2014).

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