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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Harpsichord Music - Volume 2

Arias: More Palatino, with 12 Variations, in C major, BuxWV 247 [16:00]
Suite in G minor, BuxWV 242 [7:52]
Fugue in C major, BuxWV 174 [2:52]
Courant Zimble, with 8 variations, in A minor, BuxWV 245 [7:24]
Canzonetta in G major, BuxWV 171 [2:07]
Suite in E minor, BuxWV 235 [10:12]
Canzona in G major, BuxWV 170 [4:00]
Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren, BuxWV 215 [2:18]
Lars Ulrik Mortensen (harpsichord)
rec. 22-28 September, 1998, St. Matthew’s Church, Copenhagen
NAXOS 8.570580 [52:46]


Experience Classicsonline

This is volume two of the Naxos reissue of Lars Ulrik Mortensen’s Buxtehude series. It previously appeared on Dacapo. This particular volume was Dacapo 8.224117.

Mortensen is a fine musician, whose approach to Buxtehude is vivacious and dignified in equal proportions. His Buxtehude has both passion and seriousness - but not solemnity - of mind. Mortensen makes sparkling use of the resources of his instrument, a copy by Thomas Mandrup-Poulsen of an original by Ruckers. Though the notes to this present CD give no further details, it sounds like the beautifully-toned instrument, made in 1984, which Mortensen played on some of his Bach recordings (CPO 999 989-2) and Froberger (Kontrapunkt 32040). It sings delightfully – at least it does when played by Mortensen! The use of mean-tone tuning will surely disturb very few modern listeners.

The theme of the set of variations on More Palatino (not More Palantino as printed on the back cover) is a student drinking song, though the rather stately form in which Buxtehude presents it is not especially redolent of the tavern. Still, it is an attractive and melodically various set, Mortensen’s varying use of registration producing some charming effects and some insistently dancing rhythms. The same is true of a second set of variations played here, those on Courant Zimble – a title we might translate as ‘Simple Courante’, and aptly so, since it is an uncomplicated piece which invites – and gets – some direct and appealing variations from Buxtehude. Mortensen resists the temptation to over-inflate these or make any excessive claims for them.

Each of the two Suites is made up four movements, in the order Allemande-Courante-Sarabande-Gigue. In each work the allemande is the most substantial movement, considerably longer than any of the other three movements. The allemandes also tend to have a greater musical gravity, that which opens Bux WV 242 being particularly grand in manner and phrasing; the courantes have, by way of contrast, a rippling vitality, that in Bux WV 25 being full of pleasant twists and turns. Buxtehude’s sarabandes have a graceful simplicity about them, a quality heard to perfection in Mortensen’s performances of the two in these suites, especially that in the E minor suite, where the registration is beautifully judged and employed. The gigues of the two suites make more much use of counterpoint, especially in comparison to the simpler lines of the sarabandes which precede them. But these are by no means academic fugues and in both suites the final movements very forcefully remember the dance origins of the gigue.

All of the shorter pieces in this programme have their genuine attractions and all are well characterised by Mortensen. The chorale ‘Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren’ is more often heard on the organ, although it makes no requirements that the harpsichord can’t fulfil – as Mortensen persuasively demonstrates. Indeed there is a particular sprightliness to this reading that is distinct from anything that can be achieved on the baroque organ and which offers an alternative, equally valid, view of the music. Bux WV 170, 171 and 174 are pieces which survive amongst the manuscripts of Buxtehude’s organ music but which, again, are eminently playable on the harpsichord. The fugal writing here is more ‘correct’ than in the gigues of the suites, but don’t let that make you imagine that these are unduly staid pieces. Here they have the same vivacity which characterises this programme as a whole and they are played with the same loving care for the aptness of instrumental sound and tone.

Without wanting to claim Mortensen’s as the ‘best’ recordings of Buxtehude’s harpsichord works – if one had to pick I suppose the vote might go to Ton Koopman – there is not the slightest reason to feel in any way dissatisfied with this fine recital. If you don’t know Buxtehude’s writing for harpsichord – this is an excellent value-for-money place to start; if you are already an aficionado of this repertoire you will surely be just as keen to add this to your collection.

Glyn Pursglove

see also Review by Brian Wilson


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