4 Times Reviewed: The Contemporary Fortepiano Mar 06 by Pal Szatmari, Bill Dodd, Stephen Braude and Wayne Wilmeth in Call for Reviewers

Four NativeDSD Reviewers share their thoughts on the new DSD 256 release: Rembrandt Frerichs Trio – The Contemporary Fortepiano. Enjoy the read and the music.

A huge thank you to Pal Szatmari, Bill Dodd, Stephen Braude and Wayne Wilmeth, for sharing your thoughts with the musicians, engineers and fellow DSD Listeners!


The Contemporary Fortepiano

Rembrandt Frerichs Trio

Qualities: DSD 64fs, 128fs, 256fs, DXD
Channels: Stereo, Multi, StereoDXD, MultiDXD


The Celebration of the Art of Music
by: Pal Szatmari

I must confess it is very hard for me to write an introduction to my review of ‘The Contemporary Fortepiano’ by the Rembrandt Frerichs Trio simply because I want to rush to herald how fantastic this album is. Ever since I first sat down and played this recently added NativeDSD download (and played it again and again for several times in a row), I have been enchanted by it. It is fresh, lively and inspiring. Every minute of it is evocative. A celebration of the art of music.

Now that I have managed to lift the conclusion into the first paragraph, here is an introduction to this unique Dutch jazz trio. All three members graduated from the Royal Conservatory in the Hague and have been playing together for 12 years now winning recognition and awards in international festivals. On this album Frerichs plays a rare copy of the Walter fortepiano that stood in Mozart’s house (!) and a 19th century harmonium he restored himself.

Bassist Tony Overwater plays the violone, a precursor of the double bass, and how wonderful it sounds – a perfectly chosen complement to the other instruments.

Percussionist Vinsent Planjer plays a unique instrument set of his own design, which sounds very melodic and exciting, adding a pleasant drive to the tracks, melding finely with the fortepiano lead and the bass but never pushing them – sometimes conjuring up the dance of warm raindrops during a summer shower.

“(…) if you have a selection of DSD tracks to demonstrate the capabilities of the format and your sound system, this one belongs there!”

About half of the tracks on the album were composed by Frerichs, while the remaining ones are credited to the other members, but you can find a splendid Hancock cover there as well (Butterfly). Influences through space and time abound: baroque, latin, African, Armenian, Arabic, you name it. I cannot help it, but one of the tracks (Escher) even reminds me of Philip Glass. But wherever the inspiration comes from, each track has a fine arch in its structure from start to finish. A diverse album which through the talent of the wonderful musicians manages to hold together as a whole. Highlights to me are the aforementioned ‘Escher’ with its special atmosphere and delicate raindrop-like percussion sounds; ‘Le Badinage’ with the ebb and flow of its beautiful melody as it is played by and passed on to each member of the group; while the main feature on the album is the track called ‘Offering’ built up cleverly and showcasing the synergy of these extraordinary musicians (hint: if you have a selection of DSD tracks to demonstrate the capabilities of the format and your sound system, this one belongs there!); and then I also love ‘Hak en Tak’ for the violone.

“It may well end up as the album of the year for me.”

What helps this heartwarming music to come and immediately grab the listener is the exceptional sound quality. It is right there with the best of the best. I am only able to play DSD128 stereo (the recording was made in DSD256 stereo and multichannel) and it is a real joy – whether you choose to play it at a lower volume or decide to crank it up.

It may well end up as the album of the year for me (and the trio as the discovery of the year – thank you NativeDSD!). I hope there will be other recordings available from this trio in the future – in the form they deserve: DSD.


Cabbages And Kings
by: Bill Dodd

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”


Well, if someone suggested that you listen to music played on a fortepiano (similar to one in Mozart’s home) accompanied by a harmonium from the 1800’s, along with a violone (a precursor to a modern bass), and drums and bells that have been around for centuries— What would you expect? Next you’re told that the music will be a mixture of improvisational jazz, Arabic music, and other ancient folk music.

“Bill Evans never made music like this, but I can’t help but think he’d smile if he heard it.”

Cabbages and kings! But while the seas may boil a bit with this mix, there are no pigs with wings!

The Contemporary Fortepiano is a documentation of fascinating music from the Rembrandt Frerichs Trio which has been winning acclaim at Jazz festivals around the world. I can safely say that Bill Evans never made music like this, but I can’t help but think he’d smile if he heard it.

This is far from the only “blurring” of lines between genres. Eric Vloeimans’ trumpet accompanied by the Holland Baroque in their Carrousel album leans far more to the classical side, but his trumpet nonetheless has echoes of Miles Davis.

I can think of other blurrings. The end of Stravinsky’s The Nightingale suite that seems like a precursor to music for Film Noir. The jazz influences in Ravel and Bartok and others.

But back to The Contemporary Fortepiano! I invite you to listen to the segments. This is not baroque music. This is something you have never heard before.

Oh yes — the recording quality could not be better! Stereo or multi – your socks will roll up and down.


Catnip For Serious Collectors
by: Stephen Braude

First of all, a disclaimer: I’ve never liked the sound of a fortepiano. In general, I feel it has the nerve-rattling abrasiveness of a harpsichord and lacks the dynamic range, tonal variety, and overall expressive potential of a grand piano. The fortepiano was a transitional stage on the way to the vastly superior modern piano, and I feel it should ordinarily be consigned to a museum of instrumental rejects. However, I approached the audition of this release with an open mind—actually eager to hear what these musicians were up to, realizing that creative musicians can, at least in principle, do creative things with the fortepiano’s distinctive (if limited) range of color and expression. I must add, too, that I found the instrument used here to be a very good one. It was not abrasive, and I felt no temptation to reach for Valerian drops and herbal tea. However, I still felt it lacked character and offered little in the way of timbral variety. (Face it, it’s an inherently inferior instrument!)

So, with my instrumental biases plainly before us, let me tell you about the recording. The pianist is the talented Rembrandt Frerichs, and he’s joined by percussionist Vinsent Planjer and bassist Tony Overwater. I was familiar only with Overwater, whose tribute album to jazz bassist Oscar Pettiford I’m pleased to have in my collection. And Overwater also plays an early instrument, the violone, which is a precursor to the modern double bass. He plays it very well, but for me its relative lightness of sound compared to the modern bass somewhat erases the sonic difference between it and the fortepiano, and thereby contributes to a kind of timbral jumble, a wash of string sound that tends to smear rather than to enhance the contributions of the different instruments. In my view, a modern piano would have added considerably more color to the ensemble and reduced what for me became a tiresome kind of sonic uniformity and lack of texture. The most distinctive sound in the album comes from Frerichs occasionally playing the harmonium (a smallish pump organ), which can produce long sustained tones and legato lines. Other than that, the group’s sound tends to be thoroughly percussive, either from Planjer’s various instruments, or from the striking or plucking of strings.

“(…) you probably have nothing else like it in your collection.”

As for the music itself, it’s an interesting hybrid of jazz, minimalism, and world music, performed with a kind of classical sensibility. In some respects it echoes the delicate ensemble sound of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and (apart from the distinctive sonority provided by the period instruments) the music will no doubt remind many listeners of the kind of thoughtful and finely-wrought music often heard on ECM recordings.

So is this recording worth listening to? I say, “Absolutely.” For one thing, you may be more enchanted than I am by a fortepiano’s sound, or at least by its novelty. Most important, however, the musicians are first-rate, the music is interesting, and the recording captures it all with great detail and presence. It’s definitely worth checking out, and you probably have nothing else like it in your collection — a fact which, by itself, should make the recording catnip for serious collectors.


This Sets The Bar High
by: Wayne Wilmeth

You’ve never heard anything like this!!! Or, IF you have, I am certain you never heard it recorded so well as this!!!

No, I am sure you never heard this level of invention, this artistry given to us on such a group of instruments, the usual suspects and very much NOT so usual. Even so, this fusion of Jazz with world music took me by surprise. And c’mon, Hancock’s “Butterfly” played with a sack of beans on the strings of the fortepiano? And I swear, I could hear the difference it made.

The recording quality is truly exceptional. The innovation and inspired playing these three men achieve together sets the bar high. The booklet that accompanies this music is exemplary! The pictures are amazing, the bios, explanation of what is going on is all it could be with such “out there” music.




The Contemporary Fortepiano

Rembrandt Frerichs Trio

Qualities: DSD 64fs, 128fs, 256fs, DXD
Channels: Stereo, Multi, StereoDXD, MultiDXD

Pal Szatmari, Bill Dodd, Stephen Braude and Wayne Wilmeth

NativeDSD Reviewers

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