The commemoration of the death of Dietrich Buxtehude in 2007 has
resulted in a respectable number of new recordings of his works.
Fortunately much attention has been paid to his vocal works, a
still relatively little-known quantity which was not really explored
during the commemoration of his birth in 1987. Considering the
fact that so many recordings of Buxtehude's sacred music have
been released in or around 2007 it is a bit of a shame that this
disc contains six works most of which are pretty well known. An
opportunity to bring some of the lesser-known compositions to
people's attention has been missed. Having said that I must say
that the programme of this disc is attractive - all the pieces
are first rate. And the differences in content and form guarantee
a maximum of variety.
The first item is without any doubt Buxtehude's most spectacular piece.
'Benedicam Dominum' is a motet in 24 parts, divided over six
choirs. His predecessor, Franz Tunder, had at his disposal four
small balconies in the Marienkirche in Lübeck. When Buxtehude
was appointed as his successor, he managed to find sponsors
for the building of two additional, larger balconies in the
church. He made good use of them in this motet. Two of the choirs
are vocal: one consists of soloists, the second is ‘a cappella’
which joins the soloists to single out certain passages. The
performance is very impressive, not only because of the level
of singing and playing, but also because here - as in the other
pieces - a large organ is used in the basso continuo.
'Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott' is introduced by an instrumental
Sinfonia. This concerto is based on a hymn which written by
Martin Moller in 1584. It reflects the hardship of his time:
"Take from us, Lord, thou true God, the heavy punishment
and great chastisement, which we have so deserved for our innumerable
sins. Protect us in times of war and famine, of plague, fire
and great sorrow". The chorale melody is present in every
section, but strongly altered; the last stanza is most close
to the original. Here the vocal lines are prepared by the strings.
Buxtehude effectively uses harmony to depict the penitential
character of this hymn. The dissonances are enhanced by the
use of mean-tone temperament. The piece ends with a lively polyphonic
setting of "Amen". The last line of the second stanza
is set to staccato chords, impressively performed by the ensemble.
The words 'List und Mord' (wiles and murderous assaults) are
given a maximum of expression.
'Ich bin die Auferstehung' is written for bass solo with an ensemble
of strings, cornetts and trombones with bc. It is a piece for
Easter in which the joy is reflected in lively rhythms, which
are suddenly interrupted by a passage in slow speed on the words
'der wird leben, ob er gleich stürbe" (though he may die,
he shall live). Jan H. Börjesson sings it rather well, although
his singing suffers from rough patches.
'Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab' is another composition for a solo voice,
this time a soprano, with just two violins and bc. We find some
good examples of text expression here, in particular the steep
ascending figure on "so frag ich nichts nach Himmel".
Anna Jobrant Dalnäs gives a very fine performance of this piece.
'An filius non est Dei' is written on a text of a pietistic nature.
In content it comes close to the famous cycle 'Membra Jesu nostri'.
This is what the fourth stanza says: "O noble wound, o
sweetest vein! Let me kiss thee and mend wounded hearts for
ever". It is written for three voices - alto, tenor and
bass - with three low instruments, either viole da gamba or
trombones. Here the latter option has been chosen, and the trombones
are played very well, but the articulation could have been better.
The soloists leave nothing to be desired here.
The last work is probably the best-known and most popular of all Buxtehude's
sacred works, often performed by amateur choirs. It is an example
of the so-called 'concerto-aria-cantata' which combines biblical
text, free poetry and a chorale. It receives a wonderfully expressive
performance in which Göteborg Baroque shows its strength as
an ensemble and the capabilities of its members as soloists.
The choice of repertoire may well be restricted to better-known compositions
by Buxtehude but what it lacks in originality of programming
it makes up for in quality of performance. Even those who already
have a number of discs with sacred music by Buxtehude in their
collection should look for this recording.
Johan van Veen