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
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, classicsonline.com, 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
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 theclassicalshop.net (320k mp3s) in my November
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 theclassicalshop.net
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
– 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.