Recorded at the Gardner Museum, Boston, June 2006 on the Hamburg Steinway D, this album attempts to link the Continental growth of a vocal, instrumental polyphony to its supreme master, J.S. Bach, whose Sinfonia (Invention) in F Minor emerges as the culmination of 16th Century musical impulses. While the pieces marked “pavane” tend to be introspective and melancholy, some of the works – like Sweelinck’s More Palatino – are richly florid and extroverted variations, clearly anticipations of the Bach assertiveness of spirit. Sweelinck’s Fantasia strikes the ear immediately with rich tapestries of modal sound, not quite Handelian. Occasionally, it bursts forward with an extended run or canonic variation of individual intensity. His upbeat Under the Linden Tree Variations ranks as a virtuoso tour de force, muscular and lithe. Notable is the chromatic piece by Tisdall, whose passing dissonances become quite wild, in a modern sense.
Thomas Tomkins seems to have been active c. 1650, and his Sad Pavane enjoys melancholy suspensions and a slow, declamatory style. Rangell tries to capture the sound of the virginal quite as much as Glenn Gould used to imitate the harpsichord manuals in his keyboard practice. The small Pavane of Tomkins proceeds in dotted rhythms, the harmonic shifts quick in succession. Quick grace notes add a kinetic energy that this stately piece might otherwise lack. The sectionalized Voluntary definitely opens in Bach chorale fashion, then its stretti become active and cut loose for some wicked 32nd notes. Froberger provides two ricercare – an abstracted, if quirky, contrapuntal form Bach would adapt for his own Musical Offering. Beethoven makes an unlikely appearance, courtesy of a transcription of the opening of his C Sharp Minor String Quartet, Op. 131; its austere counterpoint in the piano arrangement sounds like Bartok. Giles Farnaby’s Loth to Depart applies high expressivity to the variation form, its six sections easily fluent in strict and free imitation. Bach himself appears dark and mysterious – staccato and chromatically pained, three-voiced, distilled musical alchemy.
— Gary Lemco