Saorgin/Harmonia Mundi, Bryndorf/Dacapo
Naxos initiated its excellent Buxtehude organ series in 2001
and has now reached the fourth volume. To date, each has been
performed by a different organist, and only modern organs are
employed. This approach differs strongly from Dacapo's unfolding
Buxtehude series where Bine Bryndorf is the sole organist and
plays historical instruments.
Craig Cramer continues the high quality of the previous Naxos
volumes. He is an American organist who earned the Doctor of
Musical Arts degree in organ performance from the Eastman School
of Music and is currently a Professor of Organ at the University
of Notre Dame in Indiana. He has performed throughout the United
States and Europe, his discography ranging from Bach on historical
organs to 20th century fare.
A little historical perspective is in order. Buxtehude's organ
music represents the pinnacle of the "Stylus Phantasticus".
In the early 1600s, composers such as Heinrich Scheidemann and
Samuel Scheidt ushered in a greater compositional freedom that
deviated significantly from the rigidity of the then-existing
regimen. These freedoms were most prevalent in the Praeludium
and Toccata, two compositional types involving an alternating
pattern of 'free-form' sections framing multiple fugues. Buxtehude
perfected this new style, giving the 'free-form' sections an
expansiveness, variety of expression, and all-encompassing power
surpassing all previous composers.
On Cramer's program, we are offered four works in the 'free-form'
style. The remainder of the program consists of three Canzonettas
and ten Chorales. The Canzonetta is a contrapuntal work consisting
of a series of fugues displaying stretto, contrary motion, and
inversion; rhythmic motion tends to be lively, and the detail
of musical lines illuminating. The Chorale is based on religious
text and conforms to the patterns established many decades earlier.
Leaving aside the Praeludium and Toccata tracks for the moment,
Cramer's performances are exceptional. He gives the Chorales
a reverential treatment, but the music never sags or becomes
somber due to a fine rhythmic vitality. Also, the registrations
are absolutely delicious, and the readings very comforting. Even
more impressive is each Canzonetta where Cramer displays a wonderful
elasticity of expression and pacing.
Cramer is not as successful in the 'free-form' works that are
best played with great strength, drive and excitement. I think
it fair to say that Cramer is somewhat polite in his interpretations;
switch to Saorgin or Bryndorf and the music soars with a sense
of reckless abandon. An additional detriment for Cramer is that
the sonics are rather compressed. Each musical line is drawn
to the center of the soundstage, a condition representing a significant
obstacle to all-encompassing waves of sound.
The organ, built by Paul Fritts and Company in 1999, is a major
highlight of the disc. It is a large three-manual instrument
constructed in baroque fashion in Keller temperament and with
fifteen reed stops. Although not historical, it is the next best
thing. Cramer's registrations are not listed, but the organ's
specifications are in the CD booklet. I should also relate that
the booklet notes are splendid, offering excellent descriptions
of the different types of music on the disc.
In conclusion, Volume 4 is a fine contribution. Yes, Cramer
is not a whirlwind in the 'free-form' works, but his rhythmic
elasticity and exceptional registrations do win the day. Given
the low Naxos price, I give this a hearty recommendation. As
for alternatives, the exceptional Saorgin box-set is unfortunately
out of print at this time, but the three volumes released so
far in the Bine Bryndorf series are readily available. The main
consideration is that Buxtehude's organ music is one of the glories
of the Baroque period. Readers not familiar with this body of
works are advised to investigate and reap the tremendous rewards.