Though the Buxtehude tercentenary year has ended,
we can still expect further issues and reissues in 2008. The
Naxos stable has played a considerable part in the proceedings:
I have recently reviewed Volumes 6 and 7 of the Naxos complete
organ works and in the same package as this CD, I also received
the final disc in Bine Bryndorf’s complete recording of the
organ works on Naxos’s sister label, Dacapo.
The current recording is itself a reissue of a
Dacapo CD first released in 2001, when its appearance was welcomed
by my MusicWeb colleague Kirk
McElhearn: “This is a beautiful recording of some of Buxtehude’s
most interesting vocal works. This composer deserves to be much
better known; these works are remarkable in their emotion and
feeling.” It retains the appellation Vocal Music:2 from its Dacapo
original, even though it is by my reckoning Naxos’s third CD of
Buxtehude vocal music. As well as the reissued Volume 1 (Naxos
8.557251, of which Glyn
Pursglove wrote, “Admirers of Buxtehude – or, indeed, of Emma
Kirkby, who don’t already have this CD in their collection should
rapidly take the opportunity to acquire it” ) there is a disc
of Sacred Cantatas (Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon, 8.557041)
France hailed as a MusicWeb Bargain of the Month. For a further
take on the reissued Volume 1, see Mark
The performance of Das neugeborne Kindlein
which opens the programme is rather sober, stressing reverence
at the mystery of the Nativity rather than the joy of Christmas.
As Kerala Snyder points out in her excellent notes, Buxthude
put aside all the earlier stanzaic settings of this piece in
favour of his own through-composed setting, a work with a widely
ranging tonal plan, which makes it difficult to capture all
its facets. The work does lend itself to Munk’s measured interpretation,
but I should have preferred something a little more brisk.
The question of how these works would originally
have been performed is not merely academic. There is reason to
believe that they would have been sung with one voice per part
and it is much easier to achieve an incisive performance in this
form than with a larger choir. The Copenhagen Choir mostly sing
well enough but do sound rather too large a body for the music.
As Snyder notes, Der Herr ist mit mir was
probably intended to have a wide appeal to the townspeople of
Lübeck; the final Alleluia section is especially attractive.
It comes off well here, though I should have preferred a brisker
tempo in that final section – it doesn’t quite come over as
the brilliant ciacona which the notes lead us to expect.
The Passion concerto Fürwahr er trug unsere
Krankheit is the centrepiece of this recording, physically
and musically. It sets the text familiar from Handel’s Messiah,
‘Surely he hath borne our sorrows’. Like the Handel it is an
affective piece and responds well to Munk’s measured interpretation.
Those familiar with Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri, a
work which has received a number of fine interpretations recently,
will find themselves on familiar territory. This meditation
on the Passion is a work of deep personal piety, comparable
in its intensity with Grünewald’s Isenheim altarpiece. Johan
Reuter is particularly impressive as the bass soloist here and
in Alles, was ihr tut.
Alles, was ihr tut is one of Buxtehude’s
best known vocal works. Once again, Munk’s interpretation is
predominantly solemn: he takes 14:21 as against 11:41 in the
performance which the Amsterdam Baroque Chorus and Orchestra
gave in the Lübeck Marienkirche in May, 2007, broadcast on Radio
3. Whilst Munk’s interpretation is perfectly acceptable and
consistent with his generally measured interpretations of Buxtehude’s
vocal music, Koopman blows off the cobwebs and I prefer his
version. He gives due weight to the opening of the Sinfonia
but it is soon apparent that he is going to move things along,
yet without in any way skating over the spirituality of the
music. Individual parts, sometimes lost in Munk’s version,
stand out more clearly, despite the limitations of broadcast
sound. The singing is more incisive than that of the Copenhagen
Choir, good as they are. Johan Reuter tilts the balance somewhat
back in Munk’s favour – I prefer him to Koopman’s lighter-voiced
soloist – but the overall honours go to Koopman.
The inclusion of the Magnificat which concludes
the recording, long known not to be by Buxtehude, as the notes
acknowledge, is surprising. It is an attractive piece and,
like the other works, it receives a measured performance.
I seem to have damned a perfectly decent set of
performances with faint praise. Perhaps I was disappointed that
the reality did not live up to the high expectations raised by
the reviews of the Dacapo original. Perhaps, too, the presence
of the Dufay Collective had aroused anticipation. In the event
they play very well, so my slight disappointment cannot be laid
at their door. Fifty-one minutes is rather short measure, too,
these days, even in the lowest price range.
You won’t regret the purchase of this CD, but you
would probably be better served by Volume 1 (Naxos 8.557251)
where the inestimable Emma Kirkby is joined by a distinguished
team – follow the hyperlink in the second paragraph above for
full details. After that, you could do much worse than the
Carus CD (83.193)
which I recommended some time ago – full price, but with 50%
more music than this Naxos CD.
The acoustic and recording are more than acceptable,
though the latter is just a little recessed.
Excellent as the notes are (taken wholesale from
the Dacapo original, I believe) the absence of texts is annoying.
These can be obtained from the Naxos website, but what about
those without access to the web? And what can one do with an
A4 printout which cannot be fitted into the CD case? In this
case, the omission is especially galling – the Dacapo booklet,
which contained the texts and translations, could easily have
been reprinted in its entirety.
Free scores of Alles, was ihr tut, das
neugeborne Kindelein, and other Buxtehude works are available