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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Organ Works
see end of review for track listing
Lionel Rogg (1977 Marcussen Organ, St Nicolas, Kolding, Denmark, rec. 19-28 September, 19771; Metzler Organ, Johanneskirche, Laufenberg, Switzerland, rec. 29 June – 7 July, 19782; Metzler Organ, Netstal Reformed Church, Claris, 25-28 June, 19783; Marcussen-Andersen Organ, Monastery of Sorø, Denmark, 17-22 September, 19784). ADD.
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 4563292 [77:24 + 77:57]

Experience Classicsonline

This may be three years too late for the Buxtehude centenary, but it is a very welcome addition to the super-budget Gemini catalogue, which already contains an excellent pair of CDs on which Lionel Rogg plays Bach. (2642892 – see my joint review of this and a similarly priced Warner 2-CD set featuring Marie-Claire Alain.)

Rogg’s Bach and Buxtehude recordings – the latter made when the composer was less in fashion than now – were staples of the 1960s and 1970s baroque keyboard repertoire. Having made his mark with recordings of Bach and Buxtehude on the organ, harpsichord and pedal-harpsichord for the adventurous but short-lived Oryx label, he went on to record for EMI in the 1970s, mostly on Marcussen and Metzler organs. He had already recorded much of the music here on the Metzler organ in Baden Cathedral (Buxtehude and his Contemporaries, a 2-LP set), so it was generous indeed of EMI’s German subsidiary Electrola to allow him to re-record so much of the music. What we have here is a distillation of the original 8-LP set; may we hope for a further selection in due course?

The Gramophone reviewer in 1981 wondered if the average listener would really notice the differences between the five organs employed, four of which are represented here. It must be admitted that their timbres are very similar, even the elderly Laufenberg instrument – but, equally, they are all fine examples of their kind and well suited to the music of Buxtehude and Bach.

The 2007 celebrations brought us new recordings of the complete Buxtehude organ œuvre from Ton Koopman (Channel Classics, a set which some reviewers loved and some hated), a more consistent set from Bine Bryndorf (DaCapo) and, at budget price from Naxos, a series of recordings by Julia Brown on some interesting modern organs. The other major player in the Buxtehude field is Christopher Herrick on Hyperion: volume 1 came out in 2008 and volume 2 has appeared recently.

I reviewed and enjoyed Volume 6 of the Naxos series, on 8.570311 - here. It contains several of the works offered on the Rogg reissue: I chose at random the first item on the Naxos, the Prelude and Fugue in g, BuxWV150, CD2 tracks 18-19 of the Gemini set. Rogg takes this noticeably faster than Brown, without any sense of undue haste, thereby belying the assumption which we make too readily that baroque performances have become faster in the last 30 years. Koopman (volume 5, CC72249, 2 CDs) takes the piece faster than either, but his performance is much less to my taste, especially in the opening, than Rogg or Brown. It’s not the worst example of the kind of ‘dissident, macho and ultimately eccentric’ playing that Chris Bragg complained of in reviewing volumes 1 and 2 – here – but it is much rougher than I like.

I returned to Brown – much smoother and more deliberate, but never dragging – and Rogg – the ideal via media between the two newer performances – with relief. Bryndorf (daCapo volume 1, 8.226023) also adopts a fast tempo – very similar overall to Koopman’s; she brings the work to life, but without the sense that she is making heavy weather or that she is going for the music hell for leather. She shows that a fast tempo can work, just as Brown shows that a slower one can, but I still find Rogg the ideal mediator of the music. If you want to make part of the comparison for yourselves, try the Koopman, Brown and Bryndorf versions of this work at the Naxos Music Library.

Christopher Herrick is faster still, on the first of his two Buxtehude recordings to have appeared so far (CDA67666). You can try the first minute of this piece for yourself on the Hyperion website – here – a fine performance, though a trifle edgier than Bryndorf, with some of the idiosyncrasies of the Koopman, though to a much less irritating degree. Much as I like Herrick in Buxtehude – see the recommendation of volume 2 in my January 2010 Download Roundup – I returned to Rogg at the end of these comparisons with the sense that he gets it right. There is just one more track on CD2 after BuxWV150 and I couldn’t bring myself to stop Rogg at that point, even though I had done so with all the comparisons.

I shan’t bore you by making endless comparisons of this kind, but you may take my word that they consistently show Lionel Rogg in an excellent light. My only complaint, which is an habitual one with Gemini releases, is that the notes are too brief. In this case, Clifford Bartlett seems to be expecting too much of novices in using words such as ‘tablature’ and ‘contrapuntal’ without explanation. I think most beginners – who are most likely to purchase this set – would have liked more about the music and less about editorial problems.

I seem to remember that the original EMI LP set contained specifications of the instruments. It may seem churlish to ask for such details to be included in the booklet of such an inexpensive reissue, but if Naxos (usually) manage to do it for their organ recordings and Hyperion include the full original booklet notes with their Helios reissues, both series at budget price, is it asking too much?

Though much of the music on this reissue is duplicated on one or more of the recordings which I reviewed in 2007/8, all of which benefited from more recent editorial research than Rogg, I shall certainly be keeping his set, which, in a crowded collection, where I don’t tolerate too much duplication, represents a strong recommendation. This is not just an ideal starter for a Buxtehude-less collection; it’s equally valuable for more seasoned collectors. Two well-filled CDs of music by Bach’s major predecessor, selling for less even than two Naxos CDs, in excellent performances and recordings which still hold their own, sounds like an ideal candidate for Bargain of the Month.

Brian Wilson

Track listing
Prelude, Fugue and Chaconne in C, BuxWV1371 [5:22]
Chorale : In dulci jubilo, BuxWV1971 [2:21]
Prelude and Fugue in D, BuxWV1391 [5:19]
Chaconne in c minor, BuxWV1591 [6:31]
Prelude and Fugue in a minor, BuxWV1401 [6:03]
Chorale : Ich ruf zu Dir, BuxWV1961 [3:23]
Prelude and Fugue in f-sharp minor, BuxWV1461 [7:18]
Prelude and Fugue in e minor, BuxWV1421 [8:32]
Chorale: Ach Herr, mich armer Sünder1 [2:58]
Toccata and Fugue in F, BuxWV1571 [4:37]
Te Deum laudamus, BuxWV2181 [12:51]
Prelude and Fugue in F, BuxWV1452 [6:36]
Chorale: Mit Fried’ und Freud’ ich fahr dahin2 [5:29]
Toccata and Fugue in d minor, BuxWV1552 [6:59]
Chorale: Komm, heiliger Geist, BuxWV1992 [3:23]
Prelude and Fugue in e minor, BuxWV1432 [4:57]
Toccata and Fugue in F, BuxWV1563 [6:58]
Chorale: Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott, BuxWV2003 [3:18]
Chaconne in e minor, BuxWV1603 [5:07]
Chorale Fantasia: Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BuxWV2233 [6:53]
Prelude and Fugue in a minor, BuxWV1534[6:25]
Chorale: Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott, BuxWV1844 [3:15]
Magnificat primi toni, BuxWV2034 [7:48]
Prelude and Fugue in g minor, BuxWV1494 [7:32]
Chorale: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BuxWV2114 [2:01]
Prelude and Fugue in g minor, BuxWV1504 [7:23]
Passacaglia in d minor, BuxWV1614 [5:55]

 


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