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Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637–1707)
Wacht! Euch zum Streit gefasset macht () [136.55]
Caroline Stam (soprano)
Orlanda Velez Isidro (soprano)
Johannette Zomer (soprano)
Robin Blaze (alto)
Andreas Karasiak (tenor)
Klaus Mertens (bass)
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir/Ton Koopman
rec. September 2005, Wallse Kerk, Amsterdam. DDD
CHALLENGE RECORDS CC72241 [74.28 + 62.27]


Buxtehude’s reputation derived not only from his fame as an organist, but also from the music performed as the famous Abentmusiken at the Marienkirche in Lübeck. These evenings of music took place after the sermon at Vespers on the five Sundays between St. Martin’s Day (12 November) and Christmas Day. They seem to have been some of the earliest evening public concerts held in a church.

The concerts were instituted by Buxtehude’s predecessor, Franz Tunder. But it seems to have been Buxtehude who developed the distinctive musical format, performing a single five-part work spread over the five evenings. The Abentmusiken remained in this form under Buxtehude’s successors until in the late 18th century works by mainly foreign composers replaced the single five-part work.

Buxtehude enjoyed a forty year reign at the Marienkirche. Sadly though we have a woefully inadequate store of information about the music performed at the Abentmusiken. Only three librettos survive and no scores. Two of the librettos relate to works performed at "extraordinary" Abentmusiken held on two weekdays in 1705. Only the libretto to "Die Hochzeit des Lammes" relates to the regular five-part Abentmusiken - in this case dating from 1678. Large-scale works were not always performed. There are references to a series of smaller works being programmed in 1700.

The lion’s share of Buxtehude’s surviving manuscripts are to be found in Uppsala. These all come from the collection of Gustav Düben, a friend of the composer who received many pieces from him. Also in the collection is an anonymous set of parts for the oratorios Wacht! Euch zum Streit gefasset macht. Whilst the work cannot be attributed to Buxtehude with complete confidence the style of the piece and the source of parts mean that we can with reasonable conviction assign it to his intimate circle. In the CD booklet, Ton Koopman firmly states that the work can be assumed to be by Buxtehude.

As transmitted in the surviving parts, the work is in three parts rather than five. The libretto leaves quite a lot to be desired. In the first part the soloists take the roles of the allegorical figures of Greed, Heedlessness and Pride (the three sopranos) and the Voice of God is assigned to the bass. But in Acts 2 and 3 the voice allocation is inconsistent and does not relate to specific roles. The chorus, which has a significant role to play, is in five-parts throughout. The orchestration is for strings, two violins, two violas and continuo.

This scoring is in complete contrast to the rather varied specification known for other Buxtehude oratorios. The quality of the libretto is also a problem being very uneven. Generally Buxtehude seems to have set librettos of a very high quality. But his output is very varied and such discrepancies may not be all that significant.

Whether or not this work is by Buxtehude, either directly or indirectly, it is a rare survivor of an important genre. As such it deserves to be treated with the respect that it has been given on these discs. The performance forms volume 2 of a proposed complete Buxtehude edition from Challenge Records. The first volume, a disc of harpsichord music played by Koopman, has already been issued.

The work was originally published in 1939/1953 in an edition that attempted to return the piece to a conjectural five-part format. For this recording, Koopman has produced a new edition based on the surviving parts. He has also reconstructed the missing first violin part.

Koopman and his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra do the work proud. They and the choir give us a lively and engaging performance. The work has a total of 82 movements, crammed into a total running time of 136.55 which means that Buxtehude keeps the action moving and constantly varies the texture. The five soloists are uniformly excellent, providing well-shaped musical performances and keeping our attention engaged.

Perhaps there are a few points where interest flags but there are some lovely moments too. As a whole the work seems to ramble a little and the conclusion is nothing short of abrupt. This again makes me wonder about the provenance of the manuscript. Even if the music is all by Buxtehude, did he write it in exactly this form?

It’s strange that the first vocal/choral work in the new Buxtehude edition is this slightly dubious piece even if it does provide an interesting sidelight on German musical life in the generation before Bach. This disc can still be highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the music of this period.

Robert Hugill


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