This is the first volume
of a planned traversal of the Buxtehude
organ works by the Danish record company
DACAPO. Bine Bryndorf, an excellent
artist who specializes in performing
Baroque music on historical organs,
has the honors. As it happens Naxos
has also embarked on a complete cycle
and recently issued its 4th
Volume. The Naxos schematic involves
a variety of organists, but DACAPO plans
its series to be an all-Bryndorf affair.
Another difference is that the Naxos
series has been progressing at a snail’s
pace, while Bryndorf’s 2nd
Volume was already released just a couple
of weeks ago.
You might remember
Bine Bryndorf as one of the featured
organists in the Hänssler Bach
Anniversary Series a short number of
years ago. For those recordings, she
was listed as Katherine Bine Bryndorf.
Why the name is now shorter is anyone’s
guess, but the important thing is that
her Bach performances were generally
excellent and one of the highlights
of the Hänssler series. Concerning
her name, it will be interesting to
see if she continues to shorten it in
For her first Buxtehude
disc, Bryndorf plays the organ at St.
Mary’s Church in Elsinore that Buxtehude
played extensively from 1658 to 1668;
Bryndorf also performed on this organ
as a youngster. Built by Johan Lorentz
in 1641, the organ has been repaired
and renovated a number of times. Its
most recent refurbishing took place
in 1997 and entailed new construction
by Marcussen & Son of the old body.
I won’t go into the organ’s specifications,
but they are given in the booklet notes
with the CD.
The music of Buxtehude
represents a crucial link in the journey
from the rigid architectural forms of
the 16th century to the critical
dominance of Bach during the high Baroque
period. This journey began in the early
17th century with the emergence
of greater flexibility in compositional
style that reached its apex in Buxtehude’s
era under the banner "Stylus Phantasticus"
that graces the front cover of Bryndorf’s
Buxtehude’s organ music
ranges from the free style of the Praeludium
that does not draw on any pre-existing
melodies to the settings of traditional
Lutheran chorales. The typical Buxtehude
Praeludium consists of many sections
made up of multiple fugues and toccata-like
subjects that are extremely sharp, impetuous,
and powerful. These works are the epitome
of the "Stylus Phantasticus"
and Buxtehude’s greatest creations for
organ. For his organ chorales, Buxtehude
offers dense harmonies from the lower
voices with the upper voices supplying
ornamented melody lines.
In addition, Bryndorf
gives us the two Ciacona works and the
only Passacaglia Buxtehude composed.
Both types of works are quite similar
except for the slower tempos of the
Passacaglia. They are based on a series
of notes played over and over throughout
the work by the bass line set against
an upper voice melody that is subjected
to numerous variations.
The St. Mary’s organ
sounds to be a magnificent instrument
ideal for Buxtehude’s music. The pedals
do convey a slightly muffled tone, but
there is not any measurable damage to
the performances. In all other respects,
the sound quality is exceptional.
Finding the Bryndorf
performances to have both significant
pros and cons, I will frame my review
in terms of positive, negative, and
– Bryndorf’s strengths are her majesty,
grandeur and momentum. She is demonstrative,
but never bitter or overly severe. Overall,
her performances are very stylish and
attractive. Tempos are uniformly quicker
than the norm, but they sound natural
and are used to invest Buxtehude’s music
with enhanced drive and inevitability.
Above all else though, Bryndorf is about
public ceremony just as she was in her
Bach recordings for Hänssler.
Among the many excellent
performances on the disc, two are particularly
exceptional. The Praeludium BuxWV 149
has a fantastic introduction that Bryndorf
delivers in a wildly intense fashion.
The work begins with the manuals blazing
through the sky at a dizzying speed.
The pedals then enter with Bryndorf
investing them with a ‘pure evil’ persona.
As if this isn’t enough, the manuals
proceed to convey the ‘Mad Wizard’ at
work. Bryndorf plays this tremendously
powerful and ominous music to the hilt.
The other superior interpretation is
of the Chorale BuxWV 199 where Bryndorf’s
majesty reaches it apex with a rhythmic
lift and edge I’ve not heard from any
other recording of the work.
– The one major item lacking in Bryndorf’s
performances concerns variety. She changes
registrations infrequently and generally
within a very narrow band. Her dynamics,
articulation, rhythmic patterns and
tempos also display a small degree of
variation. Bryndorf appears to have
little interest in these matters of
variety, and listeners who do treasure
variety will surely be skeptical.
As for specific performances,
the only one where I feel Bryndorf is
unsuccessful is the Ciacona in E minor.
Here, she totally abandons her strengths
of majesty and determination, only giving
us a subdued reading that is glum and
ultimately boring. Since the work would
easily accommodate Bryndorf’s usual
style, I find her decision-making inexplicable.
Considerations – The only controversial
area concerns the Chorales. Being based
on religious text, most artists convey
a rather pious approach. In contrast,
Bryndorf eschews this path, taking the
majestic route with abundant vitality
for the subject matter. As an example,
she is absolutely festive and unique
in the Chorale BuvWV 199. I think it
is fair to say that Bryndorf celebrates
instead of bowing to God. I greatly
enjoy her approach, but some listeners
will feel spiritually undernourished.
In conclusion, the
Bryndorf disc will not appeal to all
tastes. Specifically, I do not recommend
the recording to those who insist on
a high level of variety or humble veneration
for God. All others should find much
to enjoy, particularly those like myself
who find Buxtehude’s most rewarding
musical features to be his exuberance,
sharpness of phrasing, and ceremonial
elements. Bine Bryndorf takes a clear
stand on this music, and I expect that
future volumes will reveal a similar
performance style. Volume 2 is in my
possession, so you can expect a review
of this 2nd installment in
the near future.
see also review
by Gary Higginson