Pieter Dirksen

Heinrich Scheidemann: Harpsichord Music

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Here's a real find for which Dutch harpsichordist Pieter Dirksen deserves major kudos. Heinrich Scheidemann was a North German composer, active (mostly in Hamburg) in the middle of the seventeenth century. He was a student of Sweelinck, known mostly for his organ music. But he also wrote a good deal of music for harpsichord, as yet little recorded. On the evidence of this disc it's well worth checking out. In terms of influences it's even more international than Sweelinck's music, with models from England (Dowland's ubiquitous Pavana Lachrymae as well as other pieces), France, and Italy as well as northern and northwestern Europe. There are variations, preludes and fantasias; French dances; and, unusually for this late date, intabulations (or transcriptions) of vocal motets. These last, with their old-school polyphony, give the key to the particular flavor of Scheidemann's harpsichord music, which so thoroughly shares a certain exhaustive quality with Bach's that you wonder whether Bach studied this stuff. Even in major-key dances the music has a serious tone, and Scheidemann is a concentrated thinker in both polyphonic and motivic terms. Dirksen uses a copy of the Ruckers, the premier powerhouse harpsichord of mid-seventeenth century Holland, and his sharply articulated, rather intense playing is ideal for the music as well as fully equipped to handle it technically. The recording, made in a small church in the central Dutch town of Renswoude, is likewise musically appropriate: live and edgy without ever being ponderous. These performances were recorded in 2001, but the disc did not appear until 2007. Perhaps it was considered too obscure even in the heartland of seventeenth century harpsichord music. If so, that's too bad, for this is a disc that anyone with even a casual appreciation for Bach's keyboard music will enjoy.

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