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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
O fröhliche Stunden, BuxWV 84 [6:05]
O dulcis Jesu, BuxWV 83 [11:52]
Fried- und Freudenreiche Hinfarth, BuxWV 76: Contrapunctus 1 (by 1674) [1:29]
Was mich auf dieser Welt betrübt, BuxWV 105 [5:09]
Fried- und Freudenreiche Hinfarth, BuxWV 76: Evolutio 1 (by 1674) [1:32]
Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein rein Herz, BuxWV95 [7:07]
Fried- und Freudenreiche Hinfarth, BuxWV 76: no 2, Klagelied (by 1674) [7:11]
Gen Himmel zu dem Vater mein, BuxWV 32 [8:15]
Fried- und Freudenreiche Hinfarth, BuxWV 76: Contrapunctus 2 (by 1674) [1:22]
Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BuxWV 98 [9:15]
Fried- und Freudenreiche Hinfarth, BuxWV 76: Evolutio (by 1674) [1:25]
Sicut Moses exaltavit serpentem, BuxWV 97 [7:25]
Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab', BuxWV 38 [4:12]
Emma Kirkby (soprano); John Holloway (violin); Manfredo Kraemer (violin); Jaap ter Linden (viola da gamba); Lars Ulrik Mortensen (harpsichord, organ)
rec. 1-4 November, 1996, Stokkemarke Church, Denmark. DDD
NAXOS 8.557251 [72:18]


Interest in, and the reputation of, Dietrich Buxtehude have grown of late. Rightly, it's now widely recognized that he's much, much more than a dour organ maestro. He left over 120 vocal works - none of which was he required to compose for his paid posts as organist. They comprise a large variety of set texts, compositional styles, genres, lengths, languages and performing strengths – ranging from one soloist (as on the current CD) to six choirs. Buxtehude both followed and strayed outside accepted seventeenth century German practice, which typically saw Biblical prose transformed into sacred 'concerti', and strophic poetry into songs, arias. 

What we know of Buxtehude's career in both of his two major appointments as organist (in Helsingør and Lübeck) suggests a quiet cosmopolitan breadth of experience and expression… he knew Latin, was almost certainly bilingual in Danish and German, probably mixed with the business community - he staged concerts at their request - was the Werkmeister (administrator and treasurer) of St Mary's in Lübeck - a position of considerable responsibility - and had two balconies installed there so as to extend and expand the possibilities for concert-giving. Add to this list of his accomplishments Bach's celebrated trek to Lübeck in 1705 and the word that seems best to describe Buxtehude is 'authority'. That’s what comes across immediately in the music included on this CD, and in the playing of its five performers. 

All the works except the 'Contrapunctus' and 'Was mich auf dieser Welt betrübt' (BuxWV 76 and 105) presented here exist in manuscripts copied in the early 1680s at the Swedish court (Buxtehude was born close to the Swedish border). They're part of the Düben Collection at the University Library in Uppsala.

Perhaps to reflect Buxtehude's spectrum of skills and approaches, then, the music on this CD ranges in emotional appeal from the joyful Easter aria, 'O fröhliche Stunden, O fröhliche Zeit' (BuxWV 84), through such devotional psalm settings as 'Schaffe in mir, Gott’ (BuxWV 95) to the sombre and touching 'Fried- und Freudenreiche Hinfahrt' (BuxWV 76) on his father's death in 1674. This is in some ways the centrepiece of this collection. Intensely painful, complex (Martin Luther's chorale 'Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin' is set in four part invertible counterpoint) and personal: it's probable that Buxtehude wrote the 'Klagelied' text himself. 

The arias range from the utterly simple and plain… 'Was mich auf dieser Welt betrübt' (BuxWV 105 - and perhaps the latest work to be composed here) to the highly charged: 'O dulcis Jesu' (BuxWV 83), which is brimming over with religious fervour. Its Italianate style and virtuosic tone suggest that it may have been written for one of the visiting castrati known to have frequented St Mary's Church in Lübeck. 

'Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied' (BuxWV 98) is the composer's only extant vocal work for violin alone while 'Sicut Moses exaltavit serpentem' (BuxWV 97) is noteworthy for the prominence given to the balance between instruments and voice – the former definitely not losing out. 

The arrangement and sequence of these dozen or so items works well. The acoustic may be a touch lacking in atmosphere even though the recording took place in a Danish church. The playing by this group of soloists each with his or her own specific colours and textures to add to the painting is exemplary. And the ensemble effect is near perfect: listen to the way the lines and harmonies weave together in 'Schaffe in mir, Gott' (BuxWV 95, tr.6): it's almost as though the group was born playing this music! 

Naxos has released some excellent recordings of Buxtehude's music, including two discs of the sonatas (8557248 and 8557249) with John Holloway, who also appears here; and one of the sacred cantatas (8557041) with Kevin Mallon's Aradia Baroque Ensemble. But Ton Koopman has an Opera Omnia of Buxtehude planned on Challenge: his Volume I (72250, the harpsichord works) has already appeared and is outstanding. That ought to be a hard series to beat. So Volume I in what is a series of re-releases from 1996 (Dacapo 8.224062) is an enticing prospect - especially with this line-up of soloists. Emma Kirkby is at her best - gentle, commanding and rounded and expressive in tone. Holloway's and Manfred Kraemer's violin playing is restrained and lively, as is the viola da gamba of Jaap ter Linden; all three are following in the rich tradition of string playing established in Lübeck by Buxtehude's time. Lars Ulrik Mortensen seems to savour every note on the harpsichord and organ. 

Mark Sealey

see also Review by Glyn Pursglove 


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