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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Membra Jesu nostri BuxWV 75 (?1680) [56:21]
Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit BuxWV 102 [4:07]
Walts Gott, mein Werk ich lasse BuxWV 103 [7:44]
Christina Kaiser, Astrid Werner, Anja Zügner (soprano); Alexander Schneider (alto); Tobias Hunger (tenor); Matthias Lutze, Marek Rzepka (bass); Daniel Deuter, Margaret Baumgartl (violin); Juliane Laake, Benjamin Dreßler, Katharina Schlegel, Renate Pank (viola da gamba); Matthias Müller (viola da gamba; violone); Michaela Hasselt (organ); Michael Dücker (theorbo); Dresdener Kammerchor/Hans-Christoph Rademann
rec. live, 11 February 2007, Lukaskirche, Dresden
Texts and translations included
CARUS 83.234 [69:01]


The tradition of verse meditations on the crucified body of Christ – like that of visual representations - goes back many centuries. An anonymous English poet, of the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, explained that meditation on the crucifixion was good for the Christian since it brought tears to the eyes and sweetness to the heart, since it prompted both grief and love. Poems on the body of Christ abound. One of the most famous – written in Latin by the thirteenth century Cistercian monk Arnulf of Louvain (c.1200-1250) a Cistercian monk underlies Buxtehude’s cycle of seven cantatas, Membra Jesu nosri patientis sanctissima to give it its full title. The poems have sometimes been attributed to St. Bernard of Clervaux, a fellow Cistercian but, though they have much in common with St. Bernard’s spiritual language, the evidence suggests that they are Arnulf’s work).

Buxtehude’s cycle was composed in 1680 and dedicated to Gustaf Düben, organist of the German church in Stockholm and conductor of the Swedish court orchestra, and a good friend of the composer. The autograph manuscript of the work survives in a collection of some 105 works by Buxtehude, assembled by Düben’s son and now preserved in the university of Uppsala.

Buxtehude has devised (at least one assumes that he was responsible for the choice of text as well as for the writing of the music) a cycle of seven short cantatas, each addressed to a different part of the body of Christ – in order, these are the feet, the knees, the hands, the side, the breast, the heart and the face. Musically the cantatas move through a cycle of keys – C minor, E flat major, G minor, D minor, A minor, E minor and back to C minor. Seven, it should be remembered was one of the biblical numbers of perfection. In each of the cantatas, Buxtehude sets three verses chosen from Arnulf’s poem, usually referred to as the Rhythmica oratio. Each is prefaced by an instrumental sonata, some of them (such as the sonata in tremulo which prefaces the very first sonata) wonderfully apposite to the text which follows. Each cantata also carries a kind of Biblical epigraph – from Nahum, Isaiah, Zaechaeriah, the Song of Songs, the first epistle of Peter, the Song of Songs (again) and the Psalms. The whole is beautifully made, words and music wonderfully well-suited one to another. It is one of the masterpieces of Lutheran music before Bach (and will stand comparison with all but the greatest of Bach).

This new performance brings dignity and assurance to the work. All of the soloists sing with conviction and in a thoroughly appropriate idiom. The work is conducted with evident understanding and clarity of purpose. Choir and instrumental ensemble give not the slightest cause for complaint. There is, therefore, much to admire and nothing deserving of real complaint. And yet, in ways that are hard to pin down, it falls just short of rivalling some of the very best performances the work has received on CD (and it is a work which seems to me to have been very fortunate in its recordings). Versions by such as that by Konrad Junghänel with Cantus Cölln (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901912), Masaaki Suzuki with the Bach Collegium of Japan (BIS CD 871), René Jacobs with Concerto Vocale (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901333 and Harry Christopher with The Sixteen (Linn CKD 141) have a spiritual and/or intensity which this new recording doesn’t quite match. Since the much more Italianate version conducted by Diego Fasolis on Naxos (8.553787) also appeals to me, it may be that I am failing to respond adequately to the greater restraint of this recording. And that relative restraint may be more suited to Buxtehude’s own aesthetic canon. I don’t wish, therefore, to do anything other than recommend the version by Hans-Christoph Rademann as a fine interpretation but one which hasn’t quite won me over. At least not yet – I suspect this may be the kind of recording whose subtle qualities grown on one over a period of time.

The two cantatas which complete the CD – both of which are apparently being recorded here for the first time – are minor works, but very well worth hearing and they get accomplished and intelligent performances.

Glyn Pursglove

see also Review by Jonathan Woolf




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