Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Toccata in F major, BuxWV156 [6:43]
Praeludium in A minor, BuxWV153 [5:32]
Ciacona in E minor, BuxWV160 [5:09]
Te Deum Laudamus, BuxWV218 [11:40]
Von Gott will ich nicht lassen, BuxWV220 [2:46]
Von Gott will ich nicht lassen, BuxWV221 [2:01]
Praeludium in G minor, BuxWV148 [6:22]
Toccata in D minor, BuxWV155 [6:48]
Nimm von uns, Herr, Du treuer Gott, BuxWV207 [8:02]
Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BuxWV196 [3:30]
Magnificat Primi Toni, BuxWV203 [7:29]
Masaaki Suzuki (organ)
rec. August 2008, St Nicolai Church, Altenbruch, and St Jacobi der Altere Church, Lüdingworth, Germany.
BIS-SACD-1809 [68:48]
This recording is special for a number of reasons, but in particular as a ‘tale of two organs’. Situated in the neighbouring parishes of Altenbruch and Lüdingworth the respective so-called ‘peasants’ cathedrals’ stand as symbols of the region’s past wealth and cultural status. The history of both organs is outlined in the well presented booklet notes, and it suffices to say that the style and sound of both instruments would have been familiar to, and is known to have been admired by both of the makers involved in their construction.
Pictured in the booklet, both instruments are ambitious of design and substantial in size. The acoustics of both churches however reveal relatively intimate spaces, and the engineers will not have been troubled by the detail in the sound being swamped by over-lively reverberation. The first eight of the eleven pieces on this disc were recorded on the Klapmeyer organ in the St. Nicolai Church in Altenbruch, the final three on the Wilde-Schnitger organ in the St Jacobi church in Lüdingworth. The Altenbruch instrument is a delicious combination of colours which come over beautifully in this close sounding recording. Such an instrument can take this kind of scrutiny in its stride, and organ fans can revel in a superbly well balanced disposition of almost entirely original 17th and early 18th century pipes. The same goes for the Lüdingworth instrument, which has an elusively expressive quality to go with its slightly less robust sound. The cover illustration is from a wood carving which hangs in the St Jacobi church.
The programme here is an attractive mixture of Buxtehude’s organ work, from the justly famous Ciacona in E minor to less frequently heard chorale preludes and variations. There may be those among you who consider Buxtehude to something of a dull and dry old stick, but this is one of those discs which may cause you to revise this impression. I for one was surprised and impressed by the inventiveness and sense of fun in the opening Toccata in F major, which mixes passages of free and improvisatory music with contrapuntal sections. Masaaki Suzuki has a great time with contrasts of registration and plenty of bouncy rhythmic interest in the different voices. The St Nicolai section of the disc concludes with a similarly wide ranging Toccata in D minor, full of drama and fantastic licks. The central work of the programme is the substantial Te Deum laudamus, which as with so many of the pieces here, represents Buxtehude’s absolute mastery of the stylus phantasticus, here set against the cantus firmus of the Te Deum verses, which are also introduced in a remarkable variety of forms and build to a spectacular climax.
I have heard the Ciacona on numerous occasions, so it helps as a reference to hear how Suzuki approaches his performances. Not overly filled with legato lines which is always a temptation, the melodic variations are given just enough elasticity to give the music a sense of organic flow without making it stick to the walls like cooked spaghetti. I suppose I might prefer just a little more of a sense of legato in the actual chaconne bass and at certain other points, but this is a subjective point and one based on old favourites which are helped by the glue of longer reverberation. For the instrument and environment recorded here, this is less of a ‘grand organ’ and more a chamber music rendition, which is entirely appropriate.
The two back to back versions of Von Gott wil ich nicht lassen serve as a lesson in how great Buxtehude’s range is in these kinds of chorale preludes. The first version is a fairly simple arrangement, with the melody in a vox humana tremulant treble, and some development in its nicely slow moving harmonisation. The livelier second version turns everything upside down, with the melody only really recognisable when introduced in the pedal, and plenty of chromatic surprises thrown in for good measure.
Moving to the Wilde-Schnitger organ, the first thing one hears is the mildly disconcerting knocking of the rotating Tremulant, which ceases 2:33 into Nim voir uns, Herr, Du treuer Gott. The rather gargly register which follows on makes one realise why the majority of these recordings were made on the other instrument. This organ, restored in 1980-82, certainly has an individual character, and this is explored further and to admittedly richer effect in the cycle of chorale variations which complete the piece. Gorgeously throaty pedal tones are brought out in Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ, and the entire disc concludes with some more wild invention in the Magnificat Primi Toni. The depth of sonority is less on this instrument, with some flattening of the sound when everything is going on at once when compared with the Altenbruch organ, apparently a side effect of the acoustic rather than a quality in the recording. This is however still a fascinating close-up listen to a remarkably authentic and unspoilt period organ, and the Magnificat is a suitably rousing ‘song of praise to Mary’ with which to end the programme.
This is a CD which delivers more than the rather ‘period specialist’ impression you might have from the authentic instruments and somewhat dry looking programme. I like Suzuki’s touch in these pieces, and certainly appreciate the effective work which has clearly gone into a sensitive and musically satisfying registration, both within pieces and in the sense of contrast over the duration of the recital. Bis’s recording is close and detailed, but the instruments are in general notably free of mechanical noise, and the respective acoustic environments in which these magnificent instruments are housed are clearly reproduced, especially in SACD surround, which as usual connects the listener to the space in a far greater physical sense and provides a more accurate feel of the spread of the pipes and registers. For Baroque organ buffs and Buxtehude fans I would say this is definitely one for the short-shortlist.  

Dominy Clements