This is the thirteenth and latest issue in an accomplished,
acclaimed and very welcome series on Challenge. The series presents
all the works of Dieterich Buxtehude, the greatest figure in
German music before Bach. No details have been released of the
exact total number of releases which there will ultimately be.
However a good estimate is that we are over half way through.
There may well be about two dozen volumes.
This is the second volume of Buxtehude's chamber music, the
lovely Trio Sonatas Op. 1 (BuxWV 252 - BuxWV 258), led by Ton
Koopman (keyboards), whose project this is. The first collection,
actually Volume XII (on Challenge Classics CC72251), featured
works only (previously) available in manuscript. The seven sonatas
published as Buxtehude's Op. 1 are for violin, viola da gamba
and basso continuo.
They're the first of two pairs of such sets - with seven apiece
- published in the 1690s. It was Giovanni Legrenzi (1626 - 1690)
who did as much as anyone to introduce the trio sonata to the
Baltic cities - in one of which (Lübeck) Buxtehude was based
for so long.
Buxtehude responded with warmth and enthusiasm and extended
his own repertoire to include more instrumental and chamber
music towards the end of his life than before. What we hear
on this CD is testament to Buxtehude's immense skill, originality,
and ability to take a format, a relatively new genre, and make
of it something special, intriguing, entertaining and completely
delightful. Above all something of great beauty and originality.
That basso continuo, according to the title page, was originally
intended to be the harpsichord. But since we know that this
type of repertoire was often performed at Buxtehude's Marienkirche
at Lübeck (perhaps as offertory music), Koopman has allowed
himself the latitude of adding/supplementing an organ and lute.
And very sweet and winning they sound.
There is a gentleness and directness in the melodies and textures.
There's nothing sensational for all the 'inherited' colour of
the form's Italian origins. Specifically, there is less of a
sense of doubling, of layers of sounds in the same tessitura,
than was the case in the earlier works of Corelli in particular.
This tends to create a rather rich feel to the music … listen
to the opening of the B Flat (number 4) [tr.4], for example:
there are lines chasing lines, counterpoint up and down the
scales, textural mirroring and much intersection and interplay
of timbre and harmony. It's almost as though there were half
a dozen instruments.
But these players are so totally in control of the base score,
the ornamentation and the extemporisation - which Buxtehude
would have expected - that they never get carried away, never
indulge inappropriate melodic ideas. Rather, they lead us from
one felicitous passage to another. For all the fantasy, the
melodiousness and concentration of the north German style stamped
by Buxtehude on every bar, there are still many Italianate sentiments
… towards the end of number 5 in C [tr.5], for instance, and
the repetitive ostinati in the middle of the next piece, in
D [tr.6]. This variety is handled with consistency and grace
by each of the players in their own way.
Interestingly, Koopman explains that Buxtehude's choice of seven,
rather than the more usual half dozen, sonatas reflects the
German preference for multiples of the septimal system as found
in the Bible and in cosmology… seven days a week, the three-score
years and ten of our lives, the seven then known planets. But
this music is as substantial and far from fetishistic as can
be. And a delight from start to finish.
If you're collecting the Challenge series, you should have no
hesitation at all in getting this desirable and stimulating
CD immediately. Similarly, if you have any affection at all
for the best of early Baroque instrumental music and/or for
one if its most original composers, this issue is one not to
be missed. Superb playing of wonderfully inventive music.