This fine CD has the
earliest work that I knew by Dietrich
Buxtehude – the Passacaglia,
although in a very different guise.
I recall, probably about 1975, hearing
Kenneth Dawkins play this work on the
Connacher Organ in the now demolished
St Andrew’s Church, Stepps. It seemed
to me one of the most beautiful works
I had ever heard. When he had left the
organ loft I pulled the music out of
the cupboard and tried it for myself;
after a few brave attempts I abandoned
it. I must confess that I never did
master it, although I have heard it
played many times since – both on disc
and at recitals or as voluntaries. Perhaps
I should dig out the music and give
it another try?
This same Passacaglia
is given on this recording in a version
for strings arranged by the present
conductor Kevin Mallon. It was the first
track I played for this review and it
impressed me greatly. The rest of the
CD has not spoilt this impression; however
the Passacaglia remains one of
the loveliest works in the Buxtehude
Yet Buxtehude is often
remembered solely as an adjunct to Johann
Sebastian Bach. He is seen simply as
one of a number of influences that were
to make up the Bach synthesis. The story
of the young Sebastian’s visit to Lubeck
to hear the older master play is widely
known. It is well captured in the Mancunian
poet Sheila Wild’s words,
Bach takes leave of absence to visit
In distant Lübeck’s Marienkirche
the evening congregation
crowds around the organist.
Dietrich Buxtehude leans slowly
forward, turning his hands over
to empty them of silence.
The opening notes begin
in darkness, then invisibly
the sound moves on,
a widening river that drags
the listener northward to
a white unbroken stretch of sand.
Astonished, Johann Sebastian
listens and shakes his head.
He outstays his leave
by many weeks
and back in Arnstadt
Maria Barbara grows worried
the Bishop may suppose
him indolent, or worse.
Sleepless, he sits up at night,
tracing in the attic space
above his bed a toccata
and fugue in D. Outside,
the town hall square
and the full moon are
in absolute repose.
Tonight he will compose.
Tomorrow he will begin
the long walk home to Arnstadt
and the Council’s wrath.
Sheila Wild ©
We all know that J.S.Bach
went on to a great career. Yet it is
only comparatively recently that Buxtehude
has been regarded in his own right.
Furthermore, he has been considered
as a keyboard writer, with his music
for organ being best known. However
he composed in excess of 300 works for
a variety of media. Many of them have
been recorded, although often we have
only one version to choose from. Over
a third of his opus list are cantatas
written for St Mary’s in Lübeck.
These are composed for a great variety
of musical forces – from one solo voice
with continuo to nine part choral works
with orchestral accompaniment.
I think it is safe
to say that there is a certain simplicity
in these cantatas that contrasts with
some of Bach’s more elaborate creations.
In fact there is often an operatic feel
to these works rather than ecclesiastical.
Just listen to the attractive opening
duet in Was Frag ‘ich nach der Welt’.
This is charming music that definitely
has a secular feel to it. There is a
wonderful interplay here between the
soloists and the instrumentalists. Buxtehude
allows the players to have their moments
of interest before inviting the soloist
back onto centre-stage. The opening
of Wie schmeckt es so lieblich und
wohl has spaciousness about it that
listeners to Buxtehude’s chamber music
will recognize. Once again the pious
prose is accompanied with music more
suited to the opera house than to the
Some of loveliest works
on this CD are the solo cantatas. Jubilate
Domino is truly intimate in its
presentation of what should be quite
an extrovert theme – ‘Sing for joy to
the Lord, all the earth. Praise him
with songs and exultation.’ The opening
instrumental passage is actually quite
reflective. It is only when the counter-tenor
enters that the mood of the words is
established. Yet even here it is quite
a restrained reflection on the text.
Yet perhaps my favorite
cantata is In te domine speravi.
This was written for a trio with a very
light continuo. This work is two minutes
and eleven seconds of sheer delight.
Wenn ich, Herr Jesu,
habe dich, is perhaps the most intense
of these works. At least the style of
writing is much more serious in its
realisation. The sentiment of the text
is the idea of salvation through suffering
with, and in, Jesus Christ. There is
not a note too many or a chord out of
place in this exquisite work. It is
is another work that explores Buxtehude’s
skill at writing ‘expansive’ music for
strings. It opens slowly and reflectively
but builds up into a joyful work in
the concluding ‘amens’ The soprano soloist
makes this a particularly fine work.
It achieves an effective balance between
arias, recitative and instrumental interludes
that never bores.
Jesu, meine Freud
und Lust, is a delicious work for
countertenor solo and strings. The composer
has divided his string section into
five parts resulting in a subtle but
very interesting and rich accompaniment.
Soon the counter-tenor enters to deliver
his message of ‘Jesus my joy and strength.’
In many ways it is a love poem to Jesus.
‘Jesu, sweetest river of nectar, most
beloved kiss of love, my hope and portion…’
Perhaps rather heady for our secular
age, but extremely popular at a time
when theologians were insisting on an
emotional connection with God and His
Son; it was not an era of congregational
cerebralism, but of wearing the heart
on the sleeve. It is not for nothing
that Italian songs held a particular
fascination at this time and that Buxtehude
did not mind making use of their particular
This is a great CD.
I confess to having seen Buxtehude very
much as an organ composer, but this
disc has opened my eyes to a different
theme. There is no doubt in my mind
that some of these cantatas are minor
The sound quality is
excellent. The soloists are particularly
wonderful and the Arcadia Ensemble’s
playing deserves special mention.
Two criticisms. Firstly,
I think that 58 minutes is a bit short
for a CD. Surely Naxos could have found
another couple of cantatas to make it
up to about 70 minutes? And secondly,
I do not know this material and would
have enjoyed more detailed programme
notes and information as to when each
work was composed.
But I would be churlish
if I let these to slightly negative
points draw attention away from what
is a truly wonderful, delicious, beautiful
and quite moving production from Naxos.