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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
Organ Music: Volume 2
Praeludium in C major; Komm heiliger Geist; Von Gott will ich nicht lassen; Vater unser im Himmelreich; Nun bitten wir den heilegen; Toccata in G major; Nun lob mein Seel; In dulci jubilo; Fuga in C major; Ciacconna in E minor; Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin; Wie schon leuchtet de Morgenstern; Praeludium in A minor.
Julia Brown on the Organ, Central Lutheran Church, Eugene, Oregon
Recorded in March 2001
NAXOS 8.555775 [64.11]



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This is, and I have an unnatural tendency to feel slightly alarmed by this, one of an ongoing Naxos series entitled ‘The Organ Encyclopaedia’. Completism strikes again! Of course Buxtehude, who is quite certainly an important figure, will fill a number of volumes. This one is a follow up to Volume One, by Volkar Ellenberger and that disc, it must be said, has on it longer and more substantial works.

Buxtehude was a leading figure in North Germany in the years before J.S.Bach and influenced the great man in many ways. I have often thought that he must have been quite exceptional to warrant J.S. walking, so it’s said, the quite considerable distance from Arnstadt where Bach worked under some difficulty in the years 1703-6 aged about 20, to Lubeck to hear Buxtehude play. Bach’s absence did not endear him to his overlords, but he wanted to hear Buxtehude play a series of Sunday evening recitals during Advent. In the event Bach stayed longer than he should have done, utterly captivated by the older musician’s performances.

Yet it must be remembered that at that time Buxtehude and Bach and other organists were primarily known as improvisers. They were known secondly as organists and thirdly as composers. In listening to this CD I have to say that that order makes sense, as none of this music is exceptional although it is well crafted and certainly interesting.

The organ, a picture of which adorns the cover, is a three-manual affair. It is called the Brombaugh Organ, in the Central Lutheran Church at Eugene in Oregon. It was built in 1976. Amongst its stops is an intriguing coupler called a ‘Nightingale’. Now I may be mistaken, but can I hear it chirruping away at the end of track 18, the choral fantasy suitable for epiphany on ‘How brightly shines morning stars’ (Wie schön leuchet der morgenstern’)?

It was a good idea to frame the disc with the free but fugal ‘Praeludium’ in C major and the one in A minor the latter ending in the major bringing the disc to a bright conclusion. Buxtehude’s Fugues are not as developed or as clever as Bach’s but it is quite clear that Bach must have studied them, especially a work like ‘Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin’. This was written for a funeral for a local dignitary in 1671 and consists of a ‘Contrapunctus I’ with the choral in the upper voice, the ‘Evolutio I’ with the tune in the pedals, ‘Contrapunctus II’ with melody in the upper part and with the lower parts swapped over, ‘Evolutio II’ with all parts inverted and a final moving ‘Klag-lied’ added later for his own father’s funeral. I feel that this is the best piece on the disc.

There are preludes on hymn tunes and Lutheran chorales and a fine Ciaccona with a short Toccata but little else that stands apart. The best-known work is the brief fantasy on ‘In dulci jubilo’.

Whilst Buxtehude’s music is not particularly virtuoso it is not straightforward to interpret either. It looks fairly simple on the page but is deceptive in its demands. It needs a thoughtful choice of registration. Praise then goes to Julia Brown who uses the organ to its fullest extent. Particularly interesting is the versus II of the ‘Vater unser im Himmelreich’ chorale variations with its curiously jumpy two part texture demanding a woodwind stop in a left hand of agility and clarity. This she achieves with, I think, an 8ft Dulcian; beautifully captured too in this vivid recording.

I wonder if Keith Anderson could go down as the most prolific writer of booklet notes in history. Here we have another fascinating essay on Buxtehude together with good, helpful analyses of each piece. All well up to his usual excellent standard.

Gary Higginson



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