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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Vocal Music - 2
Das neugeborne Kindelein, BuxWV13 [7:14]
Der Herr ist mit mir, BuxWV15 [8:09]
Fürwahr, er trug unsere Krankheit, BuxWV31* [12:34]
Alles, was ihr tut, BuxWV4* [14:21]
Magnificat anima mea, BuxWV Anh.1 (doubtful authenticity) [8:45]
Johan Reuter (bass)*
Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir
The Dufay Collective/Ebbe Munk
rec. Vejleå Church, Ishøj, Denmark, 12-14 June 2000. DDD.
Booklet with notes in English and German but no texts.  (Texts and translations available online.) 
Previously released in 2001 as Dacapo 8.224160.
NAXOS 8.570494 [51:02]

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) which John France hailed as a MusicWeb Bargain of the Month.  For a further take on the reissued Volume 1, see Mark Sealey’s review.

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 online.

Brian Wilson

 

 


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