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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
Harpsichord Music: 3
Suite in A, BuxWV243 [8:19]
Canzonetta in d minor, BuxWV168 [4:30]
Suite in F, BuxWV238 [7:26]
Prelude in G, BuxWV162 [5:42]
Aria la Capricciosa in G, BuxWV250 [28:23]
Lars Ulrik Mortensen (harpsichord)
rec. St Matthew’s Church, Copenhagen, 22-28 September 1998. DDD.
Originally issued as DaCapo 8.224118
NAXOS 8.570581 [54:28] 
Experience Classicsonline

Two months ago I was wishing, at the end of my review of Volume 2 of this series (8.570580 – see review) for the reissue of this third and final volume. Proverbially, one should be careful what one wishes for but, in this case, there was no need for caution.

Naxos already have a recording of the final piece on this CD, BuxWV250, performed by Glen Wilson on 8.557413, where it is described as La Capricciosa - 32 Variations on ‘Bergamasca’. Wilson takes less than 18 minutes to play this work, as opposed to Mortensen’s 28:23. I can only assume that he omits most of the repeats – I haven’t heard that recording; Glen Wilson’s notes on it, on the Naxos website, do not mention any abridgement, nor do the two MusicWeb reviews by Johan van Veen and Paul Shoemaker. 

A harpsichord piece lasting almost half an hour might easily outstay its welcome, but not when the music in question is so good that it has been compared with Bach’s Goldberg Variations, of which, indeed, it may have been not only a predecessor but also a model. When played as well as it is on this recording, there is no danger of its seeming overlong. I wouldn’t place it quite in the same category as the Goldbergs, but it is certainly the most important as well as the longest work here. Having played the CD through once, I immediately played the variations all through again.

BuxWV250 contains some sparkling and varied music, often requiring nimble-fingered playing, of which Mortensen makes light work, but he never reduces the music to triviality, apart from the glorious (deliberately) wrong notes and phrasing on track 22. I haven’t heard his performance of the Goldbergs (on Kontrapunkt 32023); his playing here certainly tempts me to get hold of that recording, though I’m very happy with Kenneth Gilbert’s recording, which has the added advantage of price (Harmonia Mundi HMA1951240) or Trevor Pinnock’s slightly more expensive DG Archiv Original (4775902, also on a budget 3-CD set, DG Trio 4743372). 

Everything on this new recording, not just the variations, is as well performed and recorded as on the previous volume and, if anything, the music is more interesting. The Suites in A and F are little less deserving of the epithet ‘brilliant’ which the blurb on the rear insert applies to the variations. 

The notes by Kerala Snyder, slightly abridged from the original Dacapo issue, are scholarly and readable, though the non-specialist may find the technical terms slightly difficult to come to grips with. 

If added inducement were needed, the booklet contains a promotional code to obtain a free track from Ficher’s Musicalischer Parnassus. You’ll need to register with Naxos’s download branch,, to take advantage of the offer and you may well decide to make a purchase from the many goodies on offer there, not just Naxos’s own recordings. 

This new CD joins a long list of highly recommendable recordings of Buxtehude. Naxos have put Buxtehude lovers very greatly in their debt in the last two years with their reissues of Dacapo recordings and their own series of complete organ works and I have been pleased to welcome several of these here on MusicWeb. 

I missed out on review copies of the Opus 1 and Opus 2 Sonatas, performed by Mortensen and other distinguished baroque interpreters – they’re on my shopping list. Aficionados of SACD will prefer the recent recordings of these sonatas by the young Italian group L’Estravagante on Arts Blue Line 47731-8 and 47732-8. So far I’ve heard only the first of these and, with very minor reservations, very much liked what I heard, as did my colleague Johan van Veen – see review. I hope to include a review of the download versions of these recordings from (320k mp3s) in my November Download Roundup. 

Another Naxos Buxtehude recording which inexplicably slipped off my radar is 8.557251, Vocal Music Volume 1, with Emma Kirkby and a self-recommending group of instrumentalists, including Mortensen. I have now finally caught up with that recording, courtesy of a download from which I shall also be reviewing more fully in my November 2008 Download Roundup. For the moment, let me merely report that I found it every bit as delectable as did Glyn Pursglove - see review – and Mark Sealey – see review – when they reviewed it in 2007. 

Lest the large-scale offerings from Naxos and Challenge Classics should obscure what others have done to celebrate the Buxtehude tercentenary, let me remind you that Carus have also made a considerable contribution, including recordings of Membra Jesu nostri (83.284) and a programme of cantatas including Befiehl dem Engel (83.193 – see review). 

Meanwhile I recommend that you make this new Naxos reissue a priority; if you haven’t yet obtained the first two volumes, go for this one first – but you’ll almost certainly want the other two afterwards unless you’re incurably averse to the harpsichord. And even those who normally find the sound too unvaried may warm to Mortensen’s particularly versatile harpsichord, made by Thomas Mandrup-Poulsen, and the way he handles it. I made volume 2 Bargain of the Month – let that accolade stand for all three CDs. These were highly recommendable recordings at full price and they are even more so now.

Brian Wilson


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