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CD Review

Albertus Bryne

Keyboard Music

  • Toletole
  • Suite in A minor
  • Suite in F Major
  • Suite in D minor
  • Suite in D Major
  • Suite in A minor
  • Suite in D Major
  • Suite in D minor
  • Suite in D Major
Terence Charlston (organ, harpsichord, spinet)
Deux-Elles DXL1124
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Albertus Bryne (1621-1668) was a contemporary of such British composers as Christopher Simpson and Matthew Locke, being born six years after the former and five years before the latter. Living through the English Civil Wars and Cromwell's Protectorate, he died eight years after the restoration of Charles II; that is, just before Purcell was beginning to compose. Apparently an outstanding harpsichord player, Bryne was also an organist and chorister taught by John Tomkins (whom he succeeded) at St. Paul's in London, although he subsequently had to leave his post there – twice (during the Civil War, and the Great Fire of London in 1666)! Rejected by the Puritans, he was refused the position of organist of the Chapel Royal, although he did find work at Westminster Abbey after 1660, where he was succeeded by John Blow.

His harpsichord suites are some of the first in Britain to have four movements – and deserve to be better known than they are. Indeed that goes for his work in general and it's tempting to assume that his relative obscurity today must in part be the result of the vicissitudes of his career in times of great change and national event. Bryne occupies a "betwixt and between" position and status – after the golden age of English virginal music and before the English Baroque proper of Purcell, Clarke and eventually Handel. It's good to note that a new edition of Bryne's works from Norsk Musikforlag A/S prepared by the harpsichordist on this CD, Terence Charlston, and Heather Windram, is mentioned in the CD's liner notes, but appeared still to be "forthcoming" at the time of this review's publication. Bryne was highly regarded during his life… Playford's Musicall Banquet of 1651 has him in its lists of "excellent and able Masters"; Batchiler's The Virgin's Pattern of 1661 calls Bryne "that famously velvet fingered Organist"; and Locke rated him as highly as Bull (whose Preludium is also included in this recital) and Gibbons. It is probable, then, that most of Bryne's extant keyboard music was intended for domestic, not church, performance.

The suites presented here mostly follow the traditional Air, Allmain or Courrant – Saraband – Jig sequence, or some variation thereof. In fact, Bryne was one of the first English composers to organize his suites by key. For this and other reasons, of style, they were influential on the likes of Blow and Purcell. Some of their figurations and broken chords clearly derive from the lute repertoire of the time. Charlston is particularly successful at bringing that correspondence to the fore. He also points up the music's gentle rhythmicality and its spring. With admirable clarity of melodic line Charlston exposes the unselfconscious development of each movement as part of each suite's whole: listen to the the Ground of the A Minor Suite (tr.22), for example, to hear how Bryne's maturity and fully-integrated sense of melody matching both tempo and texture succeed so well. The intricacy and graceful arch even of a short movement like the Courrant from the A Minor suite (tr.19) also illustrates this well. Almost exclusive to English music of the time, in fact, is the Ground. These movements are splendid opportunities for Charlston to improvise, as would have been normal in Bryne's day. In the notes which come with this CD, Charlston suggests that there are many significant issues of restoration associated with the suites of Bryne. For example, the two types of variation – "division" and "interpolation": since we have little or no indication of when each was intended, it fell to Charlston to include examples of both methods. This he does, and his judgement seems to have worked, given the way we respond to them.

Terence Charlston has an evident feel for and empathy with this music. His touch is light in the sense that his intention (he succeeds admirably) is to evoke the music's sometimes concealed intricacies and intensities. Given that most of Bryne's music would have been meant for and played on whichever keyboard instrument was to hand, there's a pleasing balance on this CD: those played on the organ sound more majestic: such performances of Bryne remind one of Byrd. Those on the harpsichords and spinet (just the D Major Suite, tr.s31-33, which is also played on the harpsichord, tr.s14-16) clean and fresh. So again Charleston's judgement is a good one.

No fewer than four instruments are used by Charlston on this recording: a Renatus Harris organ of 1702-04; a single manual harpsichord after Ioannes Couchet of 1645 by David Evans (2005); a spinet after Charles Haward of c.1680 by Miles Hellon (1979); and a Ruckers double manual harpsichord of 1624 by Andrew Garlick (1998).

The CD concludes with three short single organ voluntaries by Christopher Gibbons (1615-1676, Orlando's son), whom Bryne succeeded at Westminster Abbey.

It almost goes without saying that Albertus Bryne is under-recorded: there only appears to be one other CD in the current catalog (Signum U.K. 93), on which he has a single track. So if for no other reasons than ones of musicological interest, this would be a CD to be snapped up by lovers both of the somewhat slim pickings of mid seventeenth century English instrumental music. But, further, this is a CD full of beautiful, tuneful and excellently-played music by a specialist who brings style, originality and above all great illumination to one of that period's most elegant and characterful composers. It will delight. Thoroughly recommended.

Copyright © 2008 by Mark Sealey