Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1639 - 1707)
Opera Omnia XIII - Chamber Music 2: Trio Sonatas Op. 1
Sonata in F Op. 1 No. 1 BuxWV 252 [9:21]
Sonata in G Op. 1 No. 2 BuxWV 253 [7:14]
Sonata in A Op. 1 No. 3 BuxWV 254 [10:14]
Sonata in B flat Op. 1 No. 4 BuxWV 255 [8:04]
Sonata in C Op. 1 No. 5 BuxWV 256 [8:23]
Sonata in D Op. 1 No. 6 BuxWV 257 [9:33]
Sonata in E Op. 1 No. 7 BuxWV 258 [7:00]
Ton Koopman (harpsichord, organ); Catherine Manson (violin); Paolo Pandolfo (viola da gamba); Mike Fentross (lute)
rec. May 2010, Geertekerk, Utrecht, Netherlands. DDD

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.

Mark Sealey

Truly beautiful, inspiring and original - the latest in an excellent series.