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Cæcilia-Concert: Buxtehude & Co.
Johann Philipp Krieger (1649-1725) Chaconne (from Sonata in F) [4:49]
Matthias Weckmann (c.1619-74) Sonata IX [6:20]
Dietrich Becker (1623-71) Sonata a 3 [7:44]
Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707) Sonata in D, BuxWV 267 [8:49]
Matthias Weckmann Sonata VI [4:04]
Dietrich Becker Sonata a 2 [8:50]
Johann Theile (1646-1724) Sonata a 4 [4:40]
Dieterich Buxtehude Aria: More Palatino, BuxWV 247 [13:52]
Dieterich Buxtehude Sonata IV Op. 2, BuxWV 262 [8:54]
Matthias Weckmann Sonata VIII [3:00]
Matthias Weckmann Sonata V [5:06]
Cæcilia-Concert (Fiona Russell (cornetto/cornettino); Adam Woolf (tenor trombone); Wouter Verschuren (dulcian); Kathryn Cok (reproduction Ruckers harpsichord and portative organ); Annabelle Ferdinand (violin))
rec. Laurentiuskerk, Mijnsheerenland, Holland, 10-11, 13 November 2006. DDD.
Booklet with notes in English, Dutch and German.
Challenge Classics CC72179 [76:18]

If you have explored all that the various recordings of Prætorius’s Terpsichore have to offer, this could be your next step. If, on the other hand, you have yet to make the acquaintance of that work, that should be your first port of call.

This CD offers a selection of the music of Buxtehude and his contemporaries for the Abendmusiken in Lübeck and for similar occasions in other North German towns. In this the anniversary year of his death it is hardly surprising that the name of Buxtehude should appear in the title of the disc. It is appropriate, that it should be so, since his music dominated the musical scene immediately after the age of Schütz, Schein, Scheidt and Demantius. Handel went to Lübeck in hopes of becoming his successor, but baulked at the condition of marrying Buxtehude’s daughter, and Bach made his famous round-trip of over 500 miles on foot to hear him perform.

The young members of the ensemble Cæcilia-Concert present the music of Buxtehude alongside that of four of his near-contemporaries. Of these Matthias Weckmann and Dietrich Becker were Buxtehude’s seniors by a few years, Johann Krieger and Johann Theile his juniors. Apart from Buxtehude himself and Krieger, who is best known today for publishing in 1700-1 the first annual cycle of cantatas of the kind which we now associate with Bach, these are merely names to most lovers of baroque music. The opportunity to hear them in the company of Buxtehude is, therefore, welcome. Weckmann was a former pupil of Schütz but neither he nor any of the other composers approach the talent of either Schütz or Buxtehude.

North German as these composers are, the Venetian origin of this kind of music is not hard to recognise – transmitted from the Gabrielis and Dario Castello via Schütz et al, though a little tamer than when it left Italy. None of the music makes great intellectual claims on the listener, but it is all very pleasant, if a little unvaried. I have already indicated that Prætorius’s music makes a better place to start: his Terpsichore is a model of how much variety can be injected into music of this kind. Three bargain recordings of the Prætorius will do as well as any: in the lowest price category that on Regis RRC1076, strongly recommended by Gary Higginson, the Philip Picket (475 9101), just reissued at low-mid-price and recommended by Mark Sealey in an earlier incarnation, and the pioneering version by David Munrow, now on a super-bargain-price 2-CD Virgin Veritas, coupled with Susato’s Danserye and Consort Music by Morley (3 50003 2) All these recordings, with their different virtues, are regular visitors to my CD player. An older version, by Collegium Terpsichore, on Eloquence, now sounds rather dated.

The solo-harpsichord piece (track 8) provides something of a welcome break. Even Buxtehude does not wholly emerge from the CD as the master that we are beginning to recognise him as. I deliberately first listened to the music ‘blind’ and could not distinguish that track 4, the Sonata in D, was by Buxtehude, though I guessed him correctly as the composer of the harpsichord-only Aria. This, the longest piece here, stands out from the rest of the CD in style as well as being for the solo instrument alone: its sub-title, more Palatino, presumably refers to its being written in a style popular further South than Lübeck, in the Rheinland-Pfalz or Palatinate. (I would have welcomed a note about this in the booklet: it merely reports that the piece was based on a popular 17th-century folk tune.)

Otherwise I found track 9, Buxtehude’s Sonata IV Op.2, the most attractive work here: in this piece the wind instruments are mercifully not so predominant; violin, trombone and continuo weave in and out in an appealing fashion. I had not previously heard any of the Op.1 or Op.2 Trio Sonatas but the quality of this one tempts me to explore them further, probably in the Holloway-Mortensen-ter Linden versions on Naxos 8.557248 (Op.1) and 8.557249 (Op.2) where the gamba plays the part here allocated to the trombone. Gary Higginson strongly recommended the Op.1 CD: "I am in full agreement with the ‘American Record Guide’ which is quoted on the back of the CD case: "It is difficult to imagine a better recording of these pieces" and I would add emphatically, "and, of course, a better performance". Glyn Pursglove was, if anything, even more enthusiastic about the Op.2 disc: "Wonderful music, very well performed. I have listened to the disc repeatedly since it came into my hands. It gets better every time."

Volume 6 of the Naxos series of Buxtehude’s organ music (8.570311) is currently in my in-tray – a preliminary listening suggests that I shall recommend it – and I recently recommended a Carus recording of his Cantatas, also associated with the Abendmusiken concerts (83.193: on reflection, I should have given it a thumbs-up at least). If you want to get the measure of Buxtehude, those are better places to look, along with the ongoing series of Buxtehude recordings on the Carus and Challenge Classics labels.

The performers all use copies of 17th-century instruments – a boxwood cornetto, a walnut cornettino, a maple-wood dulcian and other modern copies, including a 2-manual harpsichord modelled on a 1638 Ruckers. No information is given about the tuning of the harpsichord and chamber-organ but the wind instruments are able to cope with the pre-equal-temperament requirement to play A-sharp and B-flat as separate notes. We are not told anything about the violin but its player, Anabelle Ferdinand, has an impeccable baroque-music pedigree as a former student of Monica Huggett and Pavlo Beznosiuk. The other performers are pictured on the cover and inside the booklet with their instruments (apart from the keyboard instruments, of course) but neither Ms Ferdinand nor her instrument appears anywhere.

The performances are all very accomplished. I cannot imagine that the better-known performers on the Naxos recording outdo them in Op.2/4. It is not the fault of the performers that the style of music is so unvaried. To have achieved greater variety would have meant recruiting more players in order to alternate a gamba with the trombone, a violone with the dulcian and a second violin with the cornettino – all permissible variations noted by the composers.

Where there is greater variety, as in the two Buxtehude pieces which I have singled out, their playing blends extremely well. I note that the Naxos performance of Op.2/4 is taken rather more briskly, 8:32 against 8:54 here but there was no sense that this new performance was other than well-paced. The recording captures the performances very well without drawing attention to itself.

The booklet includes a 17th-century painting of St Cecilia at the organ – rather murky in black-and-white reproduction – but fails to explain its relevance to the name of the ensemble. The fact that these recordings were made, appropriately, just before St Cecilia’s Day in 2006 is nowhere mentioned in the booklet.

Otherwise the notes in the booklet are detailed and informative about the music and the performers – so detailed that it is hard to get the booklet in and out of the case. For once, there is no point in scouring the Dutch and German notes for additional information: all three are versions of a common original.

I have awarded a thumbs-up for the quality of the performances and the recording. I am less certain about the general appeal of some of the music, as I have indicated.

Brian Wilson


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