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Sweelinck's main religious compositions are a tribute to Amsterdam tolerance. A setting of all the psalms, to French words but using tunes from the Geneva Psalter, occupied him some twenty-four years until his death. As counterbalance came the thirty-seven motets of Cantiones sacrae in 1619. They were dedicated to a Catholic pupil and raise the question whether Sweelinck, like William Byrd, remained at heart a Catholic in a city under Protestant rule. The Cantiones, avoiding any cantus firmus structure, are notably concise, and their range provides constant enchantment. The texts are all Latin and mainly biblical. Sweelinck launches, however, in exultation on a text from an unknown source, 'Gaudete omnes et laetemini' [listen -- CD1 track 1, 0:02-0:55]. In stark contrast are the weighty chromatics of the 'Miserere nostri' in the Te Deum setting [listen -- CD2 track 16, 9:27-10:15]. The Cantiones contain psalm settings as well. The first of them, Psalm 128, has a dire improbability in its statement that those fearing the Lord shall see 'peace upon Israel' [listen -- CD1 track 10, 4:26-5:25].

The Clare College Choir under Timothy Brown has both the intensity and agility to encompass the varied moods of the music. Psalm 130, 'De profundis clamavi', finds Sweelinck sombre enough, opening indeed in choral depths [listen -- CD2, track 15, 0:00-1:02]. Latinists can only delight in the clarity with which most of the words come across. Sweelinck ends the set as joyously as he began it, urging Jerusalem to rejoice and give praise with the same verbs he used at the outset [listen -- CD2 track 17, 1:25-2:15]. If I have any criticism of the singing and its direction, it is that in the faster pieces the pace is just too hectic, and we become more conscious of twenty-first-century Cambridge than seventeenth-century Amsterdam, where the canals moved more sluggishly than the Cam, and caused much offence to contemporary nostrils in summertime.

Copyright © 12 June 2002 Robert Anderson, London, UK


Sweelinck: Cantiones Sacrae

KTC 2025 DDD Stereo (2 CDs) 73'53"/66'51" - TT 140'44" 1998 Etcetera Record Company BV

The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge directed by Timothy Brown




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