in, and the reputation of, Dietrich Buxtehude have grown of
late. Rightly, it's now widely recognized that he's much, much
more than a dour organ maestro. He left over 120 vocal works
- none of which was he required to compose for his paid posts
as organist. They comprise a large variety of set texts, compositional
styles, genres, lengths, languages and performing strengths
– ranging from one soloist (as on the current CD) to six choirs.
Buxtehude both followed and strayed outside accepted seventeenth
century German practice, which typically saw Biblical prose
transformed into sacred 'concerti', and strophic poetry into
we know of Buxtehude's career in both of his two major appointments
as organist (in Helsingør and Lübeck) suggests a quiet cosmopolitan
breadth of experience and expression… he knew Latin, was almost
certainly bilingual in Danish and German, probably mixed with
the business community - he staged concerts at their request
- was the Werkmeister (administrator and treasurer) of
St Mary's in Lübeck - a position of considerable responsibility
- and had two balconies installed there so as to extend and
expand the possibilities for concert-giving. Add to this list
of his accomplishments Bach's celebrated trek to Lübeck in 1705
and the word that seems best to describe Buxtehude is 'authority'.
That’s what comes across immediately in the music included on
this CD, and in the playing of its five performers.
the works except the 'Contrapunctus' and 'Was mich auf dieser Welt betrübt' (BuxWV 76 and 105) presented here
exist in manuscripts copied in the early 1680s at the Swedish
court (Buxtehude was born close to the Swedish border). They're
part of the Düben Collection at the University Library in Uppsala.
to reflect Buxtehude's spectrum of skills and approaches, then,
the music on this CD ranges in emotional appeal from the joyful
Easter aria, 'O fröhliche Stunden, O fröhliche Zeit' (BuxWV
84), through such devotional psalm settings as 'Schaffe in mir,
Gott’ (BuxWV 95) to the sombre and touching 'Fried- und Freudenreiche
Hinfahrt' (BuxWV 76) on his father's death in 1674. This is
in some ways the centrepiece of this collection. Intensely painful,
complex (Martin Luther's chorale 'Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr
dahin' is set in four part invertible counterpoint) and personal:
it's probable that Buxtehude wrote the 'Klagelied' text himself.
arias range from the utterly simple and plain… 'Was mich auf dieser Welt
betrübt' (BuxWV 105 - and perhaps the latest work to be composed
here) to the highly charged: 'O dulcis Jesu' (BuxWV 83), which
is brimming over with religious fervour. Its Italianate style
and virtuosic tone suggest that it may have been written for
one of the visiting castrati known to have frequented St Mary's
Church in Lübeck.
dem Herrn ein neues Lied' (BuxWV 98) is the composer's only
extant vocal work for violin alone while 'Sicut Moses exaltavit
serpentem' (BuxWV 97) is noteworthy for the prominence given
to the balance between instruments and voice – the former definitely
not losing out.
arrangement and sequence of these dozen or so items works well.
The acoustic may be a touch lacking in atmosphere even though
the recording took place in a Danish church. The playing by
this group of soloists each with his or her own specific colours
and textures to add to the painting is exemplary. And the ensemble
effect is near perfect: listen to the way the lines and harmonies
weave together in 'Schaffe in mir, Gott' (BuxWV 95, tr.6): it's
almost as though the group was born playing this music!
Naxos has released some excellent recordings of Buxtehude's music,
including two discs of the sonatas (8557248 and 8557249) with
John Holloway, who also appears here; and one of the sacred
cantatas (8557041) with Kevin Mallon's Aradia Baroque Ensemble.
But Ton Koopman has an Opera Omnia of Buxtehude planned on Challenge:
his Volume I (72250, the harpsichord works) has already appeared
and is outstanding. That ought to be a hard series to beat.
So Volume I in what is a series of re-releases from 1996 (Dacapo
8.224062) is an enticing prospect - especially with this line-up
of soloists. Emma Kirkby is at her best - gentle, commanding
and rounded and expressive in tone. Holloway's and Manfred Kraemer's
violin playing is restrained and lively, as is the viola da
gamba of Jaap ter Linden; all three are following in the rich
tradition of string playing established in Lübeck by Buxtehude's
time. Lars Ulrik Mortensen seems to savour every note on the
harpsichord and organ.
see also Review
by Glyn Pursglove