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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Seven Trio Sonatas, Op. 2:
Sonata No.1 in B flat major, BuxWV 259 [8:33]
Sonata No.2 in D major, BuxWV 260 [9:06]
Sonata No.3 in G minor, BuxWV 261 [10:54]
Sonata No.4 in C minor, BuxWV 262 [8:32]
Sonata No.5 in A major, BuxWV 263 [9:15]
Sonata No.6 in F major, BuxWX 265 [8:15]
John Holloway (violin), Jaap ter Linden (viola da gamba), Lars Ulrik Mortensen (harpsichord)
rec. 9-10 February, 20-21 September 1994, Kastelskirken, Copenhagen.
NAXOS 8.557249 [63:13]

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This recording was originally issued on Da Capo 8 224003 and thoroughly merits its reissue now. These sonatas are amongst the few pieces which Buxtehude published during his lifetime. His Op. 1, containing seven sonatas for violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord is undated but was probably published in 1694. Op. 2, recorded here, contained a further seven sonatas and appeared in 1696. The two collections were clearly conceived as complementary sets. In its dedication the Op. 1 set is said to be the “first part” of his sonatas; Op. 1 and Op. 2 each contains seven sonatas.

The excellent and detailed booklet essay by Per Bærentzen points out that Buxtehude’s sonatas owe much to the stylus phantasticus – that is, what Sebastian de Brossard, writing in 1703, described as “a special instrumental style or manner where the composer is not subject to any formal restrictions, as the generic terms ‘Fantasia’, ‘Ricercare’, ‘Toccata’, and ‘Sonata’ imply”. The illusion of improvisation is carefully created in some passages of these sonatas, though such passages are securely based within meticulously composed musical structures and exist alongside eruditely ‘correct’ counterpoint. The music communicates, as a result, a joyous juxtaposition of the (seemingly) free alongside the carefully structured.

“Seven corresponds to the seven days of the week, the seven planets, seven rungs of perfection, seven spheres or celestial stairs ... The Heavens are seven in  number and so, according to Dante, are the planetary spheres ... [In the Old Testament] through the changes which it ushers in, the number seven itself possesses powers and is a magic number ... According to St. Augustine [the number seven] measures the length of history and the period of humanity’s earthly pilgrimage” (Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, 1996). Or, to put it more briefly, it is no accident that Op. 1 and Op. 2 each contain seven sonatas. The touchingly human quality of so much of what we hear coexists with an evident awareness of larger symbolic significances, significances which add to its - lightly carried - weight of meaning.

The music itself is lyrical and expressive, both beautifully formal and full of unexpected turns. It is sad and joyous, playful and solemn; it dances and it grieves. Take, for example, the way in which Sonata No. 4 begins with a beautiful self-contained slow introduction, which is succeeded by a brilliantly conducted fugal allegro, with telling switches between violin and viola da gamba, a movement closed by some lyrical writing marked lento. There follows a powerful dialogue, in ¾, between violin and viola gamba, beautiful and richly emotional, and a concluding vivace which dancingly reprises much of what has gone before.

In truth, I find it hard to contain my enthusiasm for this music. Sonata No. 5 – the longest of the sonatas in Op. 2 – seems to me to be one of the great trio sonatas of the baroque era, full of virtuoso writing, of wonderful variational solo writing for violin and viola da gamba; of complex fugues and canons - a complex construction on a repeated four-note motif. The whole is both perfectly shaped and idiosyncratically expressive.

John Holloway and his colleagues do not give ‘definitive’ performances; no really great music can be reduced to a once-and-for-all definitive version. But they do provide a compelling, richly enjoyable interpretation of this brilliant, glowing, sprightly, profound music.

Wonderful music, very well performed. I have listened to the disc repeatedly since it came into my hands. It gets better every time.

Glyn Pursglove





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