What the Critics say... 


Complete Keyboard Works

Albertus Bryne

Deux-Elles DXL1124



Classical.net  June 2008

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 Charlston'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. http://www.classical.net/music/recs/reviews/d/dxl01124a.php

Early Music Review 2007

I confess that I’d not previously heard of Albertus Bryne  (c.1621-1668), but it seems that he was organist of (old) St. Paul’s for some years, and later of West­minster Abbey in succession to Christopher Gibbons. His French-style keyboard suites are not quite in the same league as the best of Froberger or Louis Couperin, but the pieces are tuneful, effective and well written, if sometimes a little short-breathed. Charlston (who has made a special study of Bryne’s music) plays them persuasively and stylishly on some well-chosen instruments, all described and photographed in the booklet. There are two copies of 17th-century Flemish harpsichords and a spinet after the Charles Haward of /c/.1680; most interesting of all is the Renatus Harris organ of 1702-4 in St. Botolph’s, Aldgate, which has recently been restored to something like its original condition, complete with G/B short octave. It may be a little later in style than the instruments Bryne knew, but it has a good claim to be the earliest surviving church organ in England. Highly recommended, for the music, the playing and the instruments.

Richard Maunder


Music Web International  June 2007

If you have never heard of an English composer with the name Albertus Bryne – also spelled as 'Brian' or 'Bryan' – there is no need to be ashamed. Few people will have heard of him, except for those who have a better than average knowledge of the history of English music. He has an article in New Grove, but to my knowledge until now none of his works has been recorded. So one can only be grateful to Terence Charlston for not only recording his complete keyboard works, but also for editing and publishing them. This will, I am sure, lead to his music being played – and recorded – in the future. If one looks into the catalogue of recordings of English keyboard music one will find that the music of the virginalists is very popular, but that Henry Purcell is virtually the only later composer whose music in this genre is regularly performed and recorded. Even distinguished colleagues of his, like John Blow, are largely ignored. As Bryne was an important link between the virginalists and the composers of the late 17th century one may hope that this recording and the printing of his music will lead to more attention being given to English harpsichord music of the late 17th century.
As is so often the case, the fact that Bryne is an almost unknown quantity today tells us nothing about his reputation among his contemporaries. He was described as "that famously velvet fingered organist" and "an excellent musitian". But he had the bad luck to be active during the political upheaval which led to the Commonwealth. This resulted in his being dismissed from his post as organist at St Paul's, a position he had held since 1638 as a successor to his teacher, John Tomkins. He survived the Commonwealth by teaching the keyboard. After the Restoration he returned to his old post, which he lost again in the wake of the Great Fire of 1666. The last two years of his life he worked as organist of Westminster Abbey. When he died in 1668 he was succeeded there by John Blow.
It was probably during the Commonwealth period that most of his keyboard works were written, as they are primarily intended for domestic performance. They were widely appreciated, not only in his own time, but also in the 18th century, as some copies of his music prove. Historically "Bryne's suites occupy a unique position between the 'Golden Age' of the English Virginalists and the highly individual voices of English Baroque at the end of the century", Terence Charlston writes in the booklet. "The musical style and texture of Bryne's suites had a considerable influence on the next generation of composers, especially Blow and Purcell and they illuminate the development of their constituent dances during a period of gradual evolution and growing continental influence." Bryne was one of the first English composers to organise his dances into suites by key. Most suites consist of three dances: almain, corant and saraband. Sometimes the almain is replaced by an ayre, and some suites have an additional fourth movement, a jig almain. "The jig-almain is a curious amalgam of two dance-types – the almain and the jig. It is relatively rare in English keyboard music, appearing only for a brief time, and in terms of the keyboard is almost unique to Bryne."
To put Bryne's music into historical context, music by preceding generations is added. There are a couple of anonymous pieces as well as compositions by John Bull and by Christopher Gibbons, son of Orlando, and Bryne's predecessor as organist at Westminster Abbey.
In the booklet Charlston states that keyboard music was played on any instrument a player had at his disposal. This is reflected in the choice of instruments on this disc. Two different harpsichords are used: copies of a single manual harpsichord by Ioannes Couchet of 1645 and of a double manual harpsichord by Ioannes Ruckers of 1624. In addition he uses a spinet, copied after Charles Haward (c.1680) and an organ. The latter was built 1702-04 by Renatus Harris at St Botolph's Aldgate, probably England's oldest surviving church organ. The tuning of all instruments is either 1/6 or 1/4 comma meantone and the pitch varies from a=442 (organ) to a=415.
Some pieces are played more than once, on different instruments and sometimes in slightly different versions. This contributes to the variation in the programme on this disc. But it is first and foremost Bryne's music itself which keeps the listener's attention. This is just excellent, and it is a great pleasure that it has been put on disc and brought to the attention of music lovers. Terence Charlston is an expert guide and stylish performer. The recording quality is first-class, and so are the programme notes. The booklet also contains all the relevant information regarding the instruments, tuning, pitch as well as the number of every individual piece in the upcoming edition. I strongly recommend this disc of so far unjustly neglected repertoire.
Johan van Veen

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