The Long 17th Century: A Cornucopia of Early Keyboard Music

Record and Artist Details

Genre:

Instrumental

Label: Avie

Media Format: CD or Download

Mastering:

DDD

Catalogue Number: AV2415

AV2415. The Long 17th Century: A Cornucopia of Early Keyboard Music

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit

Clearly not one to do things by halves, Daniel-Ben Pienaar – whose releases already include the complete Beethoven sonatas and the Bach ‘48’ – offers here not just one disc of early keyboard music on the piano but two. That’s a total of 36 pieces, by a total of 36 composers, some of whom even harpsichordists and organists might be hard-put to identify. This is not a man dabbling in the ‘non-piano’ repertoire but one immersing himself in it and selecting with confidence.

What makes it work is not just the dazzling precision and clarity of Pienaar’s finger technique (though that is certainly a vital factor), but the intelligence that has gone into his interpretations. Pienaar is in the company of modern-day pianists who, while respecting early music, see it as raw material for the pianistic imagination – similar adventurous souls include Alexandre Tharaud, Francesco Tristano and Joanna MacGregor – but there is no doubt that he also works from a position of deep knowledge of the music’s original circumstances. Busoni once said that any composition is a work of transcription, and crucially Pienaar allows his awareness that much of this music may have started life away from the keyboard (as a lute solo perhaps, or a viol consort) to inform his interpretations – listen to the gorgeous way the colours swell and switch like a wind band in Gabrieli’s Canzon quarta. He achieves all this by not being afraid to use the piano’s resources of dynamic gradation, differentiation of line, quickness of response and some very discreet pedalling, coupled with his own all-encompassing varieties of colour and touch (so neatly chiselled in Weckmann’s Canzon, so lovingly cushioned in Philips’s Pavan) to inject the music with elements that would not have been achievable on harpsichord or organ. Thus he can dare to give Kerll’s Passacaglia more space between the notes than one would normally expect, or emphasise the fired-off cross-rhythms in Bull’s Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la in a way no harpsichord could have managed. He shapes some impressive climaxes, too, for instance in Cabanilles’s Passacalles.

Pienaar himself describes his approach as one of ‘deliberate misreading’; but while the wide range of moods revealed can be surprising – Frescobaldi’s Toccata cromaticha is achingly inward and meditative; Sweelinck’s Mein junges Leben hat ein End acquires a lyrical, almost English pastoral feel; Braga’s Batalha leaks a Beethovenian energy – it would be hard to say that any of the music here is seriously misrepresented by what Pienaar does with it. Not only that; he also communicates an individual and convincing vision for each piece, enough for every one of them to give delight. Brilliant.

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