For their first volume
of choral music in Challenge Classics’
Buxtehude Opera Ominium [review],
Ton Koopman chose the only surviving
work from the famous Abendmusiken,
the Sunday evening sacred concerts which
he put on in his church in Lübeck.
This second volume
of choral music covers Buxtehude’s cantatas,
psalm concertos, chorale concertos and
liturgical pieces. But the spectre of
the Abendmusiken is not far away and
Koopman speculates that some of the
larger-scale cantatas, such as ‘Wie
wird erneuet, wie wird erfreuet’, ‘
Heut triumphieret Gottes Sohn’, ‘Ihr
lieben Christen, freut euch nun’ and
‘Benedicam Dominum’ formed part of the
Abendmusiken. Whether or not they were
written for these evening musical concerts,
they are pretty impressive, written
for a large audience.
is scored for multiple choirs of instruments
and voices. It is substantial in length,
lasting some twelve minutes. The six
galleries in St. Mary’s Church, Lübeck
facilitated poly-choral performance
and this work seems designed to take
full advantage of them. ‘Wie wird erneuet’
is scored for six-part choir and instruments;
with its trumpets and sackbuts it is
another wonderfully festive piece.
The multi-part setting
of an Easter Hymn by Kaspar Stolzenhagen,
‘Heut triumphieret Gottes Sohn’ is scored
for a substantial performing ensemble
of five-part choir, trumpets and strings.
It includes an aria by an unknown author
but is attributed to Buxtehude in an
18th century manuscript.
‘Ihr lieben Christen,
freut euch nun’ is an Advent piece which
uses a polychoral structure featuring
five-part choir, cornets and sackbuts,
trumpets and dulcian, strings and continuo.
It has an expansive layout featuring
seven movements which mix concertos,
chorales and an aria.
Some of the other longer
works on the disc are less extravagantly
scored, but use the same combination
of concerto with aria and chorale, to
form substantial multi-movement works;
a form which was popular in Lutheran
church music in the 17th
century. ‘Drei schöne Dinge sind’
is scored for just two voices (soprano
and bass), two violins and continuo.
Buxtehude still manages a wonderfully
imaginative structure of instrumental
sonatina, concerto on Old Testament
text, reflective strophic aria and then
repeat of the concerto.
Of course not everything
on the disc is big, and that is one
of its joys. Koopman mixes these expansively
scored pieces with others which are
far smaller in scale but still full
of the most wonderful felicities.
‘Ich suchte des Nachts
in meinem Bette’ uses just tenor and
bass voices with violins, oboes and
continuo but the scoring is very varied.
The six movement structure again mixes
concertos and arias and is based on
verses from The Song of Songs.
But one of the arias manages to include
instrumental impressions of the drunken
city piper on the watch, which must
have caused much amusement at the court;
this could hardly be a liturgical piece
despite its text.
Also written for the
Court were ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ and ‘Jubilate
Domino’. ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ is an attractive
setting of the familiar tune for an
ensemble of three voices (SSB), violins
and continuo. ‘Jubilate Domino’ is a
lightly-scored chamber piece, written
for just alto voice, viola da gamba
and continuo. The alto part is sung
by counter-tenor Daniel Taylor, making
a welcome single appearance on the disc.
The disc also includes
two smaller pieces with Swedish links,
a pair of settings of Swedish chorales
(‘Herren var Gud’ and ‘Nu lat oss Gud,
var Herra’) which were probably written
for Buxtehude’s friend Gustav Düben,
the Stockholm court Kapellmeister. This
sort of connection reminds us that Lübeck,
with its links to the Baltic, had many
close connections around the Baltic
Sea; something that was inevitable in
days when sea travel could be faster
and more efficient than travel over
Much of our knowledge
of Buxtehude’s work arises from the
Swedish connection as Düben’s manuscripts
ended up in Uppsala and are one of the
principal sources for Buxtehude’s music.
Two of the pieces from this collection,
the Magnificat and the Missa Brevis
are attributed to Buxtehude even though
scholars regard them as being doubtful;
Buxtehude had little need to write such
pieces for the Lübeck evening services.
Still, they are without any parallels
in the surviving Buxtehude canon so
it is difficult to be dogmatic. The
Missa Brevis (a setting of just the
Kyrie and Gloria, according to Lutheran
tradition) is written for five-part
choir and uses fine learned counterpoint.
By contrast the Magnificat is in the
more modern manner with an instrumental
ensemble to accompany the choir.
Koopman has taken the
opportunity of the rather disparate
nature of this set to include two pieces
which Buxtehude wrote for friendship
albums of close acquaintances. Both
are musical puzzles in the form of canons.
‘Divertisson nous aujourd’hui’ is a
three-part canon written in the album
of Meno Hanneken, a distinguished theologian
and superintendent of Lübeck churches.
The other, ‘Canon duplex per augmentationem’
is a double canon, without text and
was dedicated to Johan Valentin Meder,
a singer who had performed with Buxtehude.
Koopman has assembled
a highly attractive pair of discs from
Buxtehude’s occasional works. Whilst
it is alarming quite how much of his
music is lost and how much information
we are lacking about the surviving pieces.
If you simply relax and listen then
there is much to enjoy on this disc.
There is a danger,
perhaps, for those of us who are familiar
with a small part of Buxtehude’s output,
to ascribe to him the character of a
pedantic inhabitant of the organ loft.
These pieces show that this is far from
the truth, these pieces are lively and
imaginative and extremely varied.
Koopman and his Amsterdam
forces give them exemplary performances.
Koopman varies his forces according
to the needs of the piece, so that the
smaller-scale performances are given
by appropriately sized forces. The Amsterdam
Baroque Choir is only used in five of
the tracks, all the rest use soloists
and an ensemble of soloists in the correct
Just occasionally one
of the soprano soloists displays a tendency
to hardness of tone in her upper register.
But really there is little to fault
on these discs.
All it remains to say
is that everyone should have a copy
of this lively and inspiring disc on
their library shelves.