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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Harpsichord Music - Volume 2
Arias More Palantino with 12 variations in C, BuxWV247 [16:00]
Suite in g minor, BuxWV242 [7:52]
Fugue in C, BWV174 [2:52]
Courant Zimble with 8 Variations in a minor, BuxWV245 [7:24]
Canzonetta in G, BuxWV171 [2:07]
Suite in e minor, BuxWV235 [10:12]
Canzona in G, BuxWV170 [4:00]
Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren, BuxWV215 [2:18]
Lars Ulrik Mortensen (harpsichord)
rec. St Matthew’s Church, Copenhagen, 22-28 September 1998. DDD.
NAXOS 8.570580 [52:46]
Experience Classicsonline


Still the new and reissued CDs of Buxtehude are coming through, though the centenary year is well behind us. Naxos has yet to complete its series of organ recordings and their partner label DaCapo has just completed its own survey of the organ works. Challenge Classics have embarked on a series of recordings of the Complete Works under the direction of Ton Koopman, including both organ and harpsichord works.
 
This Naxos offering is a reissue of DaCapo 8.224117 and a successor to Volume 1 (8.570579) which, I think, has slipped through the Musicweb review net. This recording was well received on its first appearance and the name of Lars Ulrik Mortensen is almost a guarantee of the quality of the performances, a guarantee fully honoured in the event.
 
Mortensen’s instrument is a copy of a Ruckers, employing mean-tone tuning. I know that some listeners with a sense of perfect pitch sometimes find it difficult to adapt to anything other than equal temperament – itself a compromise to the ears of string players – but few will find a problem with the tuning or sound of this instrument. It’s not one of those old fashioned monsters - see my review of a recent book on Isolde Ahlgrimm for her part in banishing them - but it’s no wilting violet either, especially as it’s recorded fairly closely. To borrow from St Paul, it’s no sounding gong, nor is it a tinkling cymbal. Unless I’ve missed it, the booklet doesn’t offer details of the pitch but I have no reason to doubt that it’s within baroque parameters, unlike some of the Buxtehude organ recordings which I’ve recently reviewed, where the pitch of an historic organ has been tampered with over the centuries.
 
Early music didn’t usually mean anything earlier than Bach, even for Isolde Ahlgrimm. As undergraduates in the early 1960s, my friends and I still considered the Brandenburg Concertos and The Four Seasons almost with the delight of finding archæological artefacts. However perceptions have been so stretched in recent decades that Buxtehude’s music is no longer considered esoteric, even before the impetus of the 2007 centenary. Nevertheless, though I knew Buxtehude’s vocal and organ works, it is only recently that his chamber music and harpsichord pieces have impinged on my consciousness, mainly thanks to Naxos (see my review of Volume 3 of his chamber music on 8.557250).
 
The most considerable work here is the first item, the twelve variations (on a student drinking song, though you wouldn’t realise it) on tracks 1-12. If you thought that Brahms had toned down the raucous element in the student song Gaudeamus igitur, for his Academic Festival Overture – a necessary precaution, given Cambridge’s somewhat puritanical reputation in contrast with its more tolerant elder sibling – you may well be surprised at how much more Buxtehude has tidied up this piece. That’s not to say, however, that he has made it po-faced – far from it – or that it receives anything other than a most enjoyable performance here, especially the light-toned finale on track 12.
 
Some of the music on this recording is equally at home on the organ and the harpsichord, which explains why the Courant Zimble with 8 variations, BuxWV245, may also be found on Julia Brown’s recording of the complete organ works (Vol. 7, Naxos 8.570312 - see review). Mortensen’s performance of that piece is a good deal faster than Brown’s (7:24 against 10:18) but both are excellent within their own terms. The lighter-toned harpsichord lends itself to Mortensen’s nimble performance, which may be less appropriate on the heavier-toned organ … which is not to imply that Brown’s chosen registration is inappropriate.
 
I haven’t been able to compare Ton Koopman’s recordings of the organ and harpsichord works; it will be interesting to see if, as I expect, where there is an overlap, even the same performer adopts different tempi for the different instruments. Don’t be puzzled by the term Courant zimble – it took me a long time when reviewing the earlier CD to figure out that zimble is just a variant spelling of the French word simple.
 
That same Julia Brown recording also offers the Canzona in G, BuxWV170. Again, she takes more time than Mortensen, though the differences are not so extreme this time – 4:00 against 4:28. Once again, for the reasons stated above, I was perfectly happy with both interpretations.
 
The Fugue in C, BuxWV174 also features on Bine Bryndorf’s sixth and final volume of the organ works (DaCapo compatible SACD 6.220530 – see review). Here, too, the organ performance is a trifle slower than the harpsichord (2:52 against 3:00). Bryndorf’s tempi tend to be more nimble than Brown’s where the two overlap, which is one reason why I slightly preferred the DaCapo recordings, but once again all three are excellent within their own terms. DaCapo Volume 6 also offers the Canzona, BWV170 – a three-way comparison of this piece indicates that Bryndorf is the most nimble here at 3:41, though the differences are not great in this piece.
 
There is one item in common between this CD and another Naxos collection of Buxtehude’s harpsichord works, performed by Glen Wilson on 8.557413 and recommended by JV and PSh (see JV’s review and follow link there to review by PSh). Mortensen and Wilson take almost exactly equal times for the Canzonetta in G, BuxWV171 – just one second difference – and, much as my colleagues and other reviewers enjoyed the Wilson recording, I cannot imagine that his performance is any improvement on Mortensen’s.
 
The final work, Nun lob, mein Seel, BuxWV215, also features on a Julia Brown recording, this time on Volume 6 (Naxos 8.570311 – see review). Here, too, Mortensen is faster than Brown (2:18 against 2:50); once again, I found both interpretations plausible within context.
 
If I have concentrated on the performances which overlap with other recordings, be assured that the music is all enjoyable, that Mortensen’s playing throughout is little short of exemplary and the recording close but not unduly so.
 
The notes are an abridgement of Kerela Snyder’s for the DaCapo issue. I could have done without the biographical details in exchange for more about the music, but I realise that these notes are written for all levels and that beginners will be more interested in some facts about the composer’s life than the pitch of the instrument. As usual with Naxos, the cover design is tasteful and the illustration apt.
 
Naxos offers an extra inducement in the form of a free download from its classicsonline website, a Toccata from Froberger’s Toccatas and Partitas IV. If you’re already signed up, all you will have to do is log on and type in the promotion code. If you’re not yet a member, this is a rather brazen inducement to do so. I don’t want to collude with this Naxos advertising ploy, but you will find some very attractive downloads on the site – not just Naxos’s own recordings but a wide range of other labels, often available for less than on their parent website, Chandos mp3s, for example, at £4.99 or £7.99. Volume 1 of Koopman’s Buxtehude harpsichord works is available there, too.
 
When you place your order for this recording – and for volume 1, if you don’t yet have it – don’t forget Naxos’s other contributions to Buxtehude year:
•  the complete organ music, which has now reached Volume 7
•  the two volumes of vocal music (review of Vol. 2)
•  the recently completed organ recordings on sister label Dacapo

The DaCapo set ran to three CDs; I hope that we shall soon have the remaining volume, which contains some of Buxtehude’s best music.
 
Brian Wilson


 


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