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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
Stylus Phantasticus - Organ Music Volume 1

Praeludium in G minor WV 149; Ciacona in C minor WV 159; Passacaglia in D minor WV 161; Ciacona in Eminor WV 160; Praeludium in D minor WV 161; Ciacona in E minor WV 160; Praeludium in G minor WV 148; Praeludium in C WV 137.
Choral Preludes - Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland; Gelobet Seist du, Jesu Christ; Puer Nobis in Bethlehem; Der Tag der ist so Freudenreich; In Dulci Jubilo; Lobt Gott, ihr Christen allzu Gleich; Der Den Tod Uberwand; Komm, Heilger Geist, Herre Gott,
Nun Bitten Wir Den Heilgen Geis (2 versions); Gott der Vater Wohn Uns Bei.
Bine Bryndorf, organ
Recorded at St. Mary's Church, Elsinore, June 2002. DDD
DA CAPO 8.226002 [65.36]

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I know what you're thinking: 'Not another complete recording of Buxtehude's organ works!'

Life is a little difficult at present with the Naxos series slowly grinding on and a set of Buxtehude on Dabringhaus und Grimm. Yet this new disc may well be worth pursuing because this set, on Denmark's own house recording label, is not only apt, as Buxtehude was in fact Danish by birth and early training but also different in approach to other sets.

Let's look more carefully.

First, unlike the Naxos recordings, the planning and ordering of the music by Da Capo makes lengthier listening possible. Although I would not recommend that all sixty-five minutes are heard without a stop there remains much contrast here to keep any listener interested.

Secondly, Da Capo's new style presentation with cardboard case and booklet insert is attractive especially when the booklet contains, helpfully, the melodies of ten of the chorales used by Buxtehude and heard on the CD. It is especially useful in the case of, for example, 'Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland' where the elaborations around the melody are so complex that the original is lost almost completely. Other elaborations, like the familiar 'In dulci jubilo' are simpler.

The detailed and very helpful notes are by Karela Snyder. They give an excellent, potted life-history of the composer and then go through the music in detail without being too technical. One of the first comments about Buxtehude's organ works is that they "can be divided into those works that require the use of the pedal and those that do not". Bearing this in mind the CD has been planned, as I said, thoughtfully and, if this makes sense, musically.

The first work is probably Buxtehude's best known. This is his Praeludium in G minor BuxWV 149. It is an impressive piece in three sections, almost a free fantasy, with a chromatic fugal subject. This is one of several pieces that require (limited) use of the pedal. All bear the title Ciconi (Chaconne) or Ostinato. Then comes a sequence of chorale preludes based on well-known melodies also used by Bach. The melodies are given in the booklet.

Another group of Ostinato-type works comes next. There is a Ciacona, whose antecedents lie in the Chaconne form, which is more like a repeated harmonic pattern. Then comes a Passacaglia with a repeated bass pattern. There follows another Ciacona and further Praeludium. There are five more Chorale preludes of differing elaboration. The disc ends with another, fine Praeludium.

Buxtehude is closely associated with Elsinore. There is a photograph of the organ in the booklet. The instrument was built by Johan Lorentz c.1640. This gentleman was the father of the Johann Lorenz who was a teacher of Buxtehude in the 1650s. Buxtehude later became organist of St. Mary's. Various conversions and alterations have been made right up to 1997. The instrument’s compass and couplers are clearly given and it has a Tremulant for the whole organ. Other details are given including the specification. Bine Bryndorf has given us the registration for each of the eighteen pieces played. He also tells us at what point the registration changes and how. I find this a most helpful and useful development. Bryndorf is a very fine, indeed faultless, player who does not go in for unnecessary ornamentation but who is stylistically reliable and convincing.

The title of the CD 'Stylus Phantastiscus' refers to an extremely free style of writing and also to a more structured writing which has to be rather virtuoso and elaborate. This can be heard often at the start of the Prealudiums (reminiscent of Froberger) and in some of the polyphonic writing which is heard over the more stolid bass lines.

Little bells are struck in some tracks as in 'Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ' (track 3) and towards the end of the final Praeludium (bar 99 we are told). You might feel this is some distant clock chime which has accidentally appeared on the disc as its appearance and timing seem quite arbitrary. Although the bells have their own rhythm they are unrelated to the music. However, reading the registration it seems that the source of the sound is a ‘Zimbelstern’. Does that mean 'Star-Cymbals'? I would be happy to be enlightened further.

To round up. This is a useful and sound start to the series, which has, as I write, just coughed up volume 2. Although possibly for Buxtehude specialists, it contains some fine and interesting music which represents the composer in a rounded and complete way. It would surely encourage me to listen further and to follow Buxtehude on his journey around Denmark and the organs for which he composed.

Gary Higginson

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