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Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Complete Organ Works - Volume 1

Praeludium in fis BuxWV 146 [6:43]
In dulci jubilo BuxWV 197 [2:08]
Praeludium in G BuxWV 162 [4:44]
Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder BuxWV 178 [2:56]
Praeludium in E BuxWV 141 [5:51]
Nun lob mein Seel' den Herren BuxWV 213 [6:19]
Ciacona in e BuxWV 160 [5:13]
Nun freut euch lieben Christen g'mein BuxWV 210 [12:26]
Praeludium in D BuxWV 139 [5:23]
Von Gott will ich nicht lassen BuxWV 220 [1:48]
Canzonetta in e BuxWV 169 [2:57]
Toccata in F BuxWV 156 [7:04]
Ton Koopman (organ)
rec. St Nicolai Kirche, Altenbruch, October 2006. DDD

Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Complete Organ Works - Volume 2

Toccata in F BuxWV 157 [4:14]
Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott BuxWV 184 [3:52]
Fuga in C BuxWV 174 [3:06]
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern BuxWV 223 [6:52]
Nun komm der Heiden Heiland BuxWV 211 [2:00]
Puer natus in Bethlehem BuxWV 217 [0:57]
Passacaglia in d BuxWV 161 [6:55]
Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam BuxWV 180 [2:47]
Ach Gott und Herr BuxWV 177 [2:01]
Toccata in G BuxWV 164 [2:40]
Canzona in G BuxWV 170 [3:20]
Danket dem Herren BuxWV 181 [2:21]
Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich BuxWV 182 [5:40]
Canzonetta in g BuxWV 173 [1:30]
Fuga in G BuxWV 175 [3:03]
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ BuxWV 188 [8:21]
Praeludium (manualiter) in g BuxWV 163 [6:54]
Ton Koopman (organ)
rec. St Jacobi Kirche, Lüdingworth, October 2006. DDD

Among the many new recordings of Buxtehude’s organ music coinciding with the anniversary of his death, a new series by Ton Koopman has attracted considerable attention.

Ton Koopman has recorded Buxtehude before; I have in my collection a CD made in Norden for Novalis, now more than 15 years old. It stands out, alongside the maverick recording by Lena Jacobson for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, as among the most dissident performances of the repertoire ever committed to disc. Koopman indeed commented in a 1991 article for the Musical Times that, in order to perform Buxtehude, one had to "take the risk to be dissident". In the notes for the present releases he continues along the same theme, citing the stylus phantasticus as justification for a playing style employing the "greatest possible creativity" and requiring a "macho playing style". In short Koopman, rather than taking the risk to be dissident was, and remains, at least as far as his organ playing is concerned, a dissident by profession.

The continued hyper-activity typical of Koopman’s playing, and its lack of development since that first Norden recording, is for me the most frustrating aspect of these beautifully presented discs, and belies, in my opinion, a fundamental misunderstanding. The stylus phantasticus is, surely, a way of composing, and not a way of performing. The text often quoted, in order to support the latter theory is that by Mattheson in his Vollkommene Capellmeister of 1739. However, Mattheson’s description of the style is confused to the extent that he also famously states that "those composers who work out formal fugues in their Toccatas or Fantasias have no proper concept of this noble style". Given that Mattheson was at the centre of the 18th century North German organ art, it is difficult to apply his theories to Buxtehude’s music, given that the latter’s Praeludia are full of fugues. The Dutch musicologist Pieter Dirksen commented in a recent essay that Mattheson’s description merely reflects, "his rather disorganised quest for encyclopaedic theories".

The most obvious musical problem here, regarding the free works at any rate, is that of the proportio. Any performance of Buxtehude’s free works should, in my opinion, reflect the information given by the notation, especially regarding the relationship between the time signatures at each new section of the piece. If one leaves all to whimsy, as Koopman seems to do in his quest for "emotion, fantasy and contrast", the essential structure of the music is lost.

Koopman’s fast tempi and violently over-active ("macho?") touch have two, perhaps even more important, and unfortunate consequences. Firstly the lack of variety of affects is frustrating, especially in a work of the duration of the Nun freut euch lieben Christen g'mein Fantasia for example. Secondly, and for me most disturbingly is the fact that the organs sound unpleasant. This is especially regrettable given the provenance and quality of these instruments. The Altenbruch organ is the work of Johann Hinrich Klapmeyer, built in 1728 and incorporating a large amount of earlier pipework from, among others, Johann Coci (1498) and Hans Christoph Fritzsche (1647), while the Lüdingworth organ is the work of Arp Schnitger no less, incorporating significant material by Antonius Wilde (1599). Both organs are housed in difficult dry acoustics, a circumstance which Koopman’s playing exacerbates.

Despite this overwhelmingly negative review, I must put my cards on the table and state my enormous admiration for Koopman the musician. His keyboard playing 2 decades ago was refreshingly different, an almost necessary counterpoint to much early music performance of the time. For me his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra is the best in the business; I was fortunate soon after moving to the Netherlands to attend some of the final concerts of their Bach cantata project, marvellously impressive. Even some of his Bach organ cycle for Teldec is, for my ears, uniquely wonderful, especially his Sei gegruesset partita recorded in Ottobeuren, and parts of his Clavierübung III from Freiberg.

Unfortunately though, this Buxtehude recording is too dissident, macho and ultimately eccentric to be considered as anything other than an interesting side-show to one or other of the other cycles already available, or in progress.

Chris Bragg



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