17th Century German Harpsichord Music

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Edward Parimeter harpsichord. (WLBR 9202)Harpsichord by Keith Hill, Manchester, Michigan, after Zell, Hamburg.

The seventeenth-century Stylus phantasticus was the equivalent of a no-holds-barred jam session- whatever works, do it! Edward Parmentier follows that mandate, playing one of Keith Hill’s most exotic instruments, with a highly spiced meantone tuning applied. The result is the harpsichord equivalent of Thai food: sweet, hot and spicy, aromatic, intensely interesting, always surprising, and real good.

The composers represented bridge a century-wide gap between two poles: the composers Jan Sweelinck, “the father of Hamburg organists”, and Samuel Scheidt, who discarded the old German organ tablature in favor of ‘modern’ staff notation, both working around Ca. 1600; and the young Johann Sebastian Bach, who would singlehandedly create the modern virtuoso repertoire. Many of the composers’ names are unfamiliar; much of their music is not available in print, let alone on recording.

Many of these pieces have not been recorded before, especially on harpsichord. Much of this music is viewed as suitable for any keyboard instrument of the time; comparing these with good recordings of the same pieces on organs of the period, I am impressed with their suitability for the harpsichord, and with Parmentier’s conspicuous talent for finding their “harpsichord voice.” Taken together, the seven composers represented form a chain of first-hand acquaintance and professional relationship stretching from Sweelinck and Scheidt to Bach.

If all that sounds like learned musicological blather, fear not: the music is the message, and the message is vitality and excitement and color. This is an extremely enjoyable CD that needs no historical justification, but can be marvelled at and savored, without apparent limit. It is a unique document that will not soon be matched.