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Tears (harpsichord laments from the 17th-Century) - Demeyere

Tears (harpsichord laments from the 17th-Century) - Demeyere

Challenge Classics  CC 72617

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental


Byrd: Lachrimae Pavan
Froberger: Fantasia VI FbWV 206; Partita VI FbWV 612
Tomkins: A Sad Pavan for these distracted times
L. Couperin: Suite in F major
Schildt: Paduana Lagrima

Ewald Demeyere, harpsichord


Amongst the seventeenth-century harpsichord repertoire, the genre of pieces referring to a loss, whether or not the death of a person, takes a special place, and forms the leitmotif of this disc. These introspective pieces, actually being meditations or contemplations, achieve in a uniquely profound way an almost spiritual level. This recording by harpsichordist Ewald Demeyere includes, amongst others, settings of Dowland’s famous Lachrymae by Byrd and the rather unknown Melchior Schildt, a student of Sweelinck.

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Review by John Miller - January 4, 2014

Ewald Demeyere writes sagely and at length in the booklet about the music he selected for his disc of Harpsichord Laments of the Seventeenth Century. There is, however, nothing at all about him in this booklet, so I'll begin with a brief biography.

Born in 1974, the Belgian harpsichordist Ewald Demeyere studied harpsichord, gaining a masters’ degree in 1997 with Jos van Immerseel, together with musical theory (first prizes for solfège, written and practical harmony, counterpoint and fugue) at the Koninklijk Vlaams Muziekconservatorium of Antwerp.

After graduation, Demeyere was engaged by the Koninklijk Vlaams Muziekconservatorium of Antwerp as a teacher of harmony, counterpoint and fugue. In 2002 he was appointed Professor of Harpsichord there, in succession to Jos van Immerseel.

As a performer much in demand, Demeyere played chamber music with the Kuijken brothers, Paul Dombrecht and Frank Theuns. He is a member of period ensembles Il Fondamento (Paul Dombrecht) and La Petite Bande (Sigiswald Kuijken).

He has also taken part in many recordings for radio and television. His latest CDs include Eight Keyboard Sonatas by Thomas Augustine Arne (Accent), Keyboard Sonatas and Fugues by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and (with Barthold Kuijken) the Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord by J.S. Bach (Accent).

For this imaginative and very personal programme, Demeyere takes up the leitmotif of Loss, musically expressed very commonly in the Seventeenth Century, as it was a period of upheaval in Europe. Religious disputes,inter-state wars and a searingly brutal civil war in Britain took their toll on the continent, and these were profoundly expressed by musicians such as John Dowland (unfortunately misspelled as "Downland"). This fundamentally melancholy English lutenist produced a lute piece entitled 'Lachrimae Pavan', which later he transformed into a song,'Flow My Tears' and also a consort piece. Widely circulated in a turbulent Europe, Lachrymae became a sort of music icon of the times, and several variants of it make the backbone of Demeyere's programme.

Two beautiful modern copies of period instruments were chosen for this disc; both appear in coloured photographs in the booklet. For the earlier Renaissance pieces (tracks 1, 7 and 16), Demeyere uses the Virginal "Mother and Child" after models by Andreas Ruckers. This instrument is a joy to listen to; its unique and intimately expressive sound results from changes in timbrel colour with register. For example the treble has a distinct flavour of flutes. For the later (Baroque) pieces, a copy of an Austrian single keyboard instrument (c.1680) is used, with a tonal range which is both brilliant and deeply sonorous.

Johan Jacob Froberger (1616-1667), although mostly in the employ of the Viennese Court, travelled widely, absorbing different musical styles, and at the same time having a great influence himself as a keyboard master. Demeyere has a novel group of his works, from his Fantasia VI, which is delivered in a stately and serious mood, to a suite forming a Lamento for the sudden death near the age of 21 of Ferdinand IV, King of Rome. Replacing the usual allemande, this deeply-felt lament ends with an ascending three octave scale, surely picturing the ascent of the King's soul to Paradise.

Louis Couperin (c.1626-1667), uncle of Françoise Couperin le Grande, contributes another French Suite, but one assembled by Demeyere, just as they were put together by keyboard players of the time, rather like the modern idea of a favourites playlist. A lofty Allemande 'grave' follows its tearful Prelude; but the middle dances bring a brighter mood to lighten proceeds before a final 'Tombeau de Mr de Blancrocher', lutenist and another whose tragically early death inspired a number of contemporary musicians to write Tombeaux for him.

One of the most powerful and telling pieces on show is by the English Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656). Written in 1649, a bare few weeks after the beheading of King Charles 1, It draws a haunting, despairing picture in the aftermath of the beheading of King Charles I, and event which touched a whole Nation under internal siege. The Virginal's tonal mosaic is perfectly right for such a piece, as it is for the final work, Melchior Schildt's Paduana Lagrima, another setting of Dowland's Lachrymae.

Demeyere's musicianship is marvellous. He manages to imbue even the slower, darker pieces with an organic expressiveness which is compelling, elegant with regal poise and crisply rendered stylish ornamentation.

Complementing such musicianship and capturing the characters of the virginal and harpsichord with remarkable fidelity, the Northstar team present a superb recording which has the virtue of unobtrusiveness. The "black" acoustic of the famous Galaxy Studios at Mol, Belgium, gained by removing all extraneous noise, particularly at low frequencies, provides a bloom for the instruments without adding a noticeable reverberation. With 5.1 multichannel, there is plenty of signal from the surrounds, but rather than depicting the building's sound, they provide a tangible 3D image of the harpsichord.The intimate presentation, with little mechanical or performer's noise, seems as if Demeyere had been invited into one's music room, whose acoustic is transformed into the typical Withdrawing Room of a C17th well-to-do house, fashionably lined with dark oak panelling, rich drapery and dazzling ornamental plaster ceiling.

Play this disc and the busy world recedes, giving way to the music's measured expression which slows the heartbeat and takes over the mind. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2014 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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