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Diet(e)rich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Befiehl dem Engel, dass er komm BuxWV 10 [4:41]
Dein edles Herz, der Liebe Thron BuxWV 14 [9:42]
Eins bitte ich vom Herrn BuxWV 24 [17:45]
Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort BuxWV 27 [4:52]
Jesu, Meine Freude BuxWV 60 [9:48]
Nun danket alle Gott BuxWV 79 [10:14]
Wo soll ich fliehen hin? BuxWV 112 [17:05]
Capella Angelica
Lautten Compagney/Wolfgang Katschner
rec. Franckesche Stiftungen, Freylinghausensaal, Halle/Saale, 15-18 January 2007
Booklet with German texts and English translations; notes in German with abridged English and French translations.
CARUS 83.193 [75:01]

I note that Jonathan Woolf has already reviewed this CD, so I shall try to come at it from a different direction. I should say at once, however, that I entirely agree with my colleague’s praise for the music and the performances and his appreciation of how much Carus is currently enriching the Buxtehude discography in this tercentenary year: three of the seven works are world première recordings but all seven are well worth hearing. I recently praised Raumklang for assuming the mantle once worn by Deutsche Harmonia Mundi in offering fine performances of little-known early and baroque music: if anything, Carus have assumed that mantle even more fully. Until their recent recordings of Homilius appeared, for example, he had been little more than a name in the histories of music.

The standard catalogue of Buxtehude’s works, the Buxtehude Werke-Verzeichnis (BuxWV) is modelled on the Schmieder catalogue of Bach’s works (Bach Werke-Verzeichnis or BWV). The first items in the Bach catalogue are cantatas, so the first items in the Buxtehude catalogue, BuxWV 1-112, are also cantatas. This suggests both that these works are similar to Bach’s cantatas and that the cantata-form was as important in Buxtehude’s career as it was in Bach’s: both suggestions are misleading. Bach’s church cantatas were written for inclusion in the Hauptgottesdienst, the chief liturgical celebration of Sundays and major festivals – a lengthy service comprising Matins, Litany and Eucharist, with the cantata offering a little light relief in the middle. (Except in Advent and Lent when light relief was deemed inappropriate.) They usually relate in some way to the Epistle or, more usually, the Gospel prescribed for the day and they are usually fairly substantial pieces.

Buxtehude’s cantatas seem to have had no liturgical function – they formed no part of his duties as organist at Lübeck – but were intended for the more intimate Abendmusiken or evening concerts which he presented, continuing a practice started by his predecessor Franz Tunder as early as 1641. Originally these were organ recitals but quickly expanded to include instrumental and vocal works. The German notes in the booklet explain what these concerts were, but the English notes, being an abridgement rather than a full translation, omit the explanation. These Abendmusiken were spiritual concerts, presented on a number of Sundays after the afternoon celebration of Vespers. They were so popular that the town’s official watchmen were charged with the regulation of admission and the maintenance of peace and order during their performance but they presumably remained on the ‘large-domestic’ rather than congregational or concert-hall scale. The performances here are appropriately scaled: the booklet shows photographs of ten singers, the Capella Angelica – sadly not individually named – and a slightly larger number of instrumentalists.

Being quite separate from the liturgy, the form of these cantatas is very different from those of Bach – no congregation, therefore no chorales for the congregation to sing in unison, for example. (The nearest thing here is the closing chorus of Jesu, meine Freude, track 25.) In fact, Buxtehude seems not to have used the term ‘cantata’ for these works at all, calling them instead ‘motets’ or ‘concertos’ – these usually based on a text from the German Bible – or ‘arias’ or ‘songs’, usually based on a poetic text expressing personal faith. Many are in Latin and a few in Danish, BuxWV8, for example, Att du, Jesu, will mig höra, but all the works on the current disc have German texts. (Buxtehude was, in fact, born in what is now Denmark: his first name is more properly spelled Diderik.) They are also much shorter than the typical Bach cantata: the shortest here, Befiehl dem Engel, and Erhalt uns, Herr, last less than five minutes each.

The longer works here, Wo soll ich fliehen hin?, Dein edles Herz, Jesu meine Freude and Eins bitte ich approximate more to the Bach model, with an opening Sinfonia or Sonata and separate sections, with alternating solo voices or solo arias alternating with sections for tutti or coro. Wo soll ich fliehen hin? is cast in the form of a dialogue between Christ and the soul: in the first section the soul asks where it may attain salvation; the second, answering, section quotes the biblical words "come unto me all ye that are heavy laden" and so throughout the piece, which closes with a prayer to the Holy Spirit for strength.

Sometimes the words are more overtly ‘political’ than would have been suitable for liturgical use: Erhalt uns Herr asks God to keep us true to His word and to "turn aside the murderousness of the Pope and the Turks, who seek to overturn your Son Jesus Christ from his throne." (The Anglican Litany soon dropped the petition against the Bishop of Rome and all his abominable works but until recent liturgical reforms, the Anglican Prayer Book and the Roman Missal included a non-PC Good Friday collect that "all Jews, Turks, Infidels and Hereticks" might have taken from them their "ignorance, hardness of heart and contempt of thy word".)

Whatever Buxtehude’s cantatas may lose in internal variety by comparison with those of Bach the music is just as beautiful and the variety of texts from one work to another makes up for the lack of variety within each piece. The first piece, Nun danket alle Gott, at first sight an abridgement of Martin Rinckart’s well-known hymn ("Now thank we all our God" in the best-known English version) is a setting of an independent version of the underlying text, Ecclesiasticus 50:24ff: if there is any reference to the familiar Crüger setting, it is too well hidden to be recognisable. The texture of both the vocal music and the instrumental accompaniment is rich – some may even think it just a little too much like a dessert wine, though this is emphatically not an opinion which I would share – with the cornetti especially noticeable. Here and elsewhere the instrumentalists do far more than merely accompany the vocalists.

If anything, these works are more intense than Bach. Many of the texts are influenced by 17th-century German pietist poetry, a Lutheran movement which was influential among both those of the most simple faith and intellectuals; it stressed the relationship of the individual with God and complete dedication to his word, as revealed in the Bible. Of course other movements within Christianity had also stressed the individual, affective relationship of the believer with God but not to the same extent: it was, indeed, the most important reform-movement within Lutheranism and its effects are to be seen in Bach’s cantatas and passion-settings. Those with sufficient command of German will find a good account of the movement, with links to other articles, on-line.

As in Bach’s passions a great deal of stress is laid on affective identification with the passion of Christ, an aspect of late-medieval devotion which received new impetus at the time of the pietist movement. Hence the "rich intimacy and reflectiveness" which Jonathan Woolf finds in Wo soll ich fliehen hin? Those familiar with Buxtehude’s setting of Membra Jesu Nostri will know how the text dwells on the suffering which Christ experienced in each part of his body. So too here Wo soll ich fliehen? closes with an appeal to Christ to "heal with your wounds" and "wash me with your deathly sweat". This is not the common language of modern religion, except in the US Bible-belt, but the modern listener who finds such language off-putting will also have to reject the scene in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress where Christian finally casts off his burden of sin at the foot of the cross and the repeated references to Christ’s bloodied and wounded head, O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, in Bach’s St Matthew Passion. In fact, neither composer stresses the strong imagery, but rather objectifies it with the beauty of the setting, just as Bunyan is readable because of the strength of his language, evocative yet simple. I don’t wish to imply that Buxtehude and Bach ignore the text – both lay stress on the text and its setting with what the German notes rightly call due regard to the relationship between word and music – rather that the passion is set by the music in a higher context, the context of eternity.

Dein edles Herz is a setting of part of the same text, Arnulf de Louvain’s Rhytmica Oratio, which Buxtehude had already mined for Membra Jesu nostri, this time in Johann Rist’s translation. The similarity of the text to the counter-reformation devotion to the Sacred Heart serves to remind us how close the pietism of the late seventeenth-century is to late-medieval popular theology, despite the anti-papal rhetoric to which I have referred. That Carus have chosen part of a renaissance Italian painting of the Transfiguration for the cover of this CD is therefore entirely appropriate. (‘Raffaello Sanzi’ as he is named in the booklet is better known in English simply as Raphael.)

Befiehl dem Engel sets the final two stanzas of the German translation of the Latin hymn Christe qui lux es et dies, the original words probably still fresh in the ears of the audience, since it was regularly sung at Lutheran Vespers. The German notes make it clear that Buxtehude all but abandons ("vernachlässigt", literally ‘neglects’) the plainsong melody but, if you listen very carefully, there is just a hint of the original chant.

Jesu meine Freude is the best-known of the pieces on this CD and the only one for which a free score is available online. (From the home page, you have to download the opening instrumental sonata, then each of the six vocal sections separately, which is a bit inconvenient. Those seeking scores of the other works here will find that most of them are available from Carus: the parent company of this recording is a publishing business.) Jesu meine Freude is a delightful work – a miniature overture followed by a chorus, two arias, a chorus, an aria and a final chorus. The score of the opening chorus looks deceptively easy, with a very simple accompaniment – first and second violins, bassoon and bass continuo – but notice how that accompaniment becomes more elaborate at the words "Gottes Lamm, mein Bräutigam": this is the art that conceals art, from both Buxtehude and the performers. I was less disturbed than Jonathan Woolf by the slight flattening of the strings in this piece – but then I’m not a string player and I don’t have perfect pitch – and by the positioning of the soprano on the extreme left of the sound-picture. (That is where she was standing, as the photograph in the booklet makes clear, and that is how she would sound in the flesh.)

The booklet notes describe in detail how Buxtehude employs Crüger’s melody for Jesu meine Freude as a cantus firmus, though sometimes it is a virtual cantus firmus; for once the English notes translate the German here almost in full. Several times I have said that the German notes make a particular point. In fact, though the English and French notes are more than adequate, they are abridgements of the original and omit some important points. (French readers also have to do without any translation of the texts.) Otherwise the booklet is very informative. (I’m pleased to see that the editors at Carus still hang on to the occasional scharfes s (ß); though they mostly remember to follow the recent reforms and write ‘ss’, old habits die hard.)

The Buxtehude tercentenary is bringing a number of very valuable new releases, some of them from Carus, advertised in the booklet of the current CD. I am pleased, too, to see some old friends being revived. I note, for example, that Ricercar have released a mid-price 2-CD set of Buxtehude’s Cantatas on RIC252 – no overlap with the present Carus CD. If, as I presume, this set is extracted from the series of German Baroque Cantatas which Ricercar recorded some twenty years ago, it should prove a useful next step for anyone wishing to explore further: good performances, well recorded, though not to be preferred to this Carus CD. (Message to Ricercar - how about reissuing some of the works by the other composers included in that series – still my only recordings of Tunder, Krieger, Bernhard, Ahle, Selle and Weckman?) A Naxos CD (8.557041 : Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon) was recommended as Musicweb Bargain of the Month in 2004; again, there are no overlaps with the Carus disc. Otherwise there are so many several good versions of Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu nostri in the catalogue that you could hardly go wrong with any of them. The most recent, on another Carus CD (83.234) was judged "first class all round" by Jonathan Woolf here on Musicweb.

Then there are the ongoing series of recordings of Buxtehude’s organ music from Naxos and, better still, Ton Koopman’s projected series of the Opera Omnia on Channel Classics, of which the most recent volume, CC72244, 2 CDs at mid price, just one short item overlapping with the Carus CD, was very favourably reviewed by Robert Hugill on Musicweb recently. The record industry may currently be in a serious crisis but the baroque end of the business seems to be holding up well.

Brian Wilson


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