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Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Complete Organ Works

Volume 1: Buxtehude and the Mean-tone Organ
Hans Davidsson (North German baroque organ of Örgryte nya kyrka, Göteborg, Sweden)
rec. Göteborg, Sweden, 28 August – 2 September, 2006. DDD.
Full track-list at end of review
LOFT RECORDINGS LRCD1090/91 [75:38 + 73:28]




Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Complete Organ Works
Volume 2: The Bach Perspective
Hans Davidsson (North German baroque organ of Örgryte nya kyrka, Göteborg, Sweden)
rec. Göteborg, Sweden, 13-15, 18-20 February, 2007. DDD.
Full track-list at end of review
LOFT RECORDINGS LRCD1092/93 [79:20 + 78:18]
Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Complete Organ Works

Volume 3: Dieterich Buxtehude and the Schnitger Organ

Hans Davidsson (North German baroque organ of Örgryte nya kyrka, Göteborg, Sweden) with Anna Jobrandt (soprano) and Jan Börjesson (bass)
rec. Göteborg, Sweden, 28 July-3 August and 28 August-1 September, 2007. DDD.
Full track-list at end of review
LOFT RECORDINGS LRCD1094-96 [3 CDs: 67:49 + 64:58 + 68:22]
Experience Classicsonline



Since the celebrations of the tercentenary of Buxtehude’s death in 2007 we have had complete recordings of his organ music from Naxos (Wolfgang Rübsam, Craig Cramer and Julia Brown) and daCapo (Bine Bryndorf), a 3-CD selection from Claves (Kei Koto on five historic organs), a 2-CD reissue from EMI (Lionel Rogg) and continuing series from Hyperion (Christopher Herrick) and Challenge Classics (Ton Koopman). It may, therefore, appear that Loft recordings have missed the boat, but their 7-CD set, or any of the three constituent volumes, is competitive for anyone who has yet to take the plunge into Buxtehude’s organ works.

I received this set just as I was completing my March 2011/2 Download Roundup, giving me just time for a dip into each volume, which impressed me enough to include a brief mention in that Roundup, alongside the new, third volume of Christopher Herrick’s survey of Buxtehude’s organ music on Hyperion – not inappropriately, since the three Loft volumes are available for download from classicsonline.com and for streaming from the Naxos Music Library. I wrote:

I’ve had time so far only for a brief sampling but first impressions are very favourable. Where I’ve been able to compare, Davidsson generally adopts a slightly slower tempo than Herrick, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s certainly not the sort of heavy slowness that used to pass in some quarters for expressive playing of Bach and his contemporaries. Davidsson’s playing is stylish and, of course, the organ is more ‘authentic’ than Herrick’s in Paris – it’s capable, for example, of playing in mean-tone those works which don’t work well with modern temperament – and the recording is good.

Actually, I was unfair to Herrick if I seemed to suggest that the Paris organ which he uses is unsuitable for Buxtehude and I certainly didn’t intend to imply that his tempi are rushed. The Aubertin organ at St Louis-en-l’Île was built in 2005 specifically in the North German style, so, like Davidsson’s instrument on the Loft recordings, it’s well suited to the music. A full specification is included in the Hyperion booklet.

The North German style organ at Örgyte nya kyrka (new church) in Sweden was built in 2000 in the manner of Arp Schnitger, as part of a project by the University of Göteborg (GOArt – full details here). It’s claimed as the largest mean-tone instrument currently in existence, effectively an expanded blend of the Schnitger organs at Lübeck Cathedral, Sankt Jacobi, Hamburg, Grote Kerk, Zwolle, and St Laurent, Alkmaar. The photographs in the booklets show that some of the accidentals have split keys for D-sharp and E-flat and for G-sharp and A-flat. If you have a sense of absolute pitch, you will be aware that these represent the most serious disharmonies on modern keyboard instruments.

I’m not going to get into a description of the difference between mean-tone and modern tuning, since to do so would be long and tedious and most listeners just want to enjoy the music without getting bogged down in the complications of how it was performed. In any case, Gothic, who distribute these Loft recordings, offer a splendid explanation on their online catalogue – here.

There’s no doubt that the Göteborg organ is extremely valuable academically. More to the point, the sound that it makes is thoroughly convincing. If anything, I thought it preferable, at least as recorded here, to the Sankt Jacobi organ in Hamburg, one of the models used by the Göteborg builders and one of the instruments which Kei Koito plays on her 3-CD set of music by Buxtehude and contemporaries (Claves 50-1704-06 – see review). At times the temperament makes the music seem almost discordant to my ear, attuned to modern tuning, as in the f-sharp minor version of BuxWV146 (Volume 3, CD3, track 6). It’s an odd but not unpleasant experience – but see below for how Davidsson also resolves the problem.

Since Christopher Herrick’s latest recording is still fresh in my memory, it seems appropriate to compare the works on that CD with Hans Davidsson’s versions, with a glance at other recordings which I and other MusicWeb International reviewers have listened to.

Hans Davidsson’s competence is unquestionable. You’ll note, however, that I commented on the general slowness of his tempi in that brief comparison with Herrick, and I came to notice this more and more frequently as I sampled more from each CD. It’s not universally the case: Herrick, for example, takes 7:19 for the first work on his programme, the Præludium in d minor, BuxWV140 and Davidsson 6:52 (Volume 1, CD2, track 1). That’s a rare example, however, of a slow tempo from Herrick rather than a fast one from Davidsson: Bine Bryndorf completes the same five-part Præludium in 6:12 (DaCapo 6.220520 – see review). Despite the small inaccuracy in that work which Chris Bragg notes in his review, and for all that I note his preference for a more weighty approach in general, I thought Bryndorf’s performance convincing. Lionel Rogg on a budget-price EMI Gemini 2-CD set which I made Bargain of the Month is fastest of all in this work at 6:03 without sounding unduly hasty. (4563292 – see review).

Craig Cramer on Volume 4 of the complete Naxos edition (8.557195) at the other end of the spectrum takes 7:22, which I thought excessively slow and careful – the effect was of listening to a completely different work. Don Satz admitted that Cramer was no whirlwind, but admired this volume greatly – see review – which serves to remind us that taste in such matters is a variable feast. Even if you want the majesty of this work, I’d still look to Herrick or Davidsson, who capture some of the rhythmic vitality of Bryndorf and the weightiness of Cramer. Herrick in particular achieves the majestic mood without any sense of letting the music drag. If you wish to judge for yourself and you have access to the Naxos Music Library, you’ll find Cramer’s, Bryndorf’s and Davidsson’s performances there to compare. You can listen to some of the Herrick performance on the Hyperion website.

Herrick combines so-called ‘free’ compositions such as the Præludia with chorale-based works. For the remaining free-form works, his timings compare with those of Davidsson and others as follows:



Herrick Davidsson Rogg Naxos Bryndorf Koito
Præludium in g minor BuxWV163 7:52 8:42 - 10:14* 7:26 -
Canzona in e minor BuxWV169 2:44 3:17 - 3:01** 2:56 -
Præludium in F BuxWV145 6:33 7:32 6:36 7:53* 7:02 7:25
Præludium in C BuxWV136 6:17 6:07 - 7:06* 5:33 -
Canzona in G BuxWV170 3:46 3:48 - 4:28* 3:41 -
Præludium in f-sharp minor BuxWV146 7:35 9:24 [8:26]^ 7:18 9:26*** 8:02 -



* Julia Brown ** Craig Cramer *** Wolfgang Rübsam ^ alternative version in g minor

Timings are certainly not the only consideration, but it is apparent that in these works Herrick, Rogg and Bryndorf tend to be on the faster side, with Davidsson and the three Naxos performers generally slower. Only in BuxWV146, however, are Davidsson and Rübsam really out on a limb and even here Rübsam compensates with a lightness of touch – rightly described by Don Satz as ‘finely honed’ (8.555991 – see review).

Davidsson offers two accounts of BuxWV146 in Volume 3 – the ‘standard’ version in f-sharp minor and an alternative, slightly faster version in g minor. His playing may not be quite as finely honed as Rübsam’s or as lively as Rogg’s or Herrick’s, but it conveys the power of the work without sounding lumpen, and his chosen registration adds an ethereal touch to the music. Even Bine Bryndorf, whose tempi are usually among the fastest, takes her time comparatively in this work: without thinking Rogg or Herrick rushed, I do think the slower tempi work well here. As Chris Bragg reports – see review – Bryndorf plays the work in g minor, unacknowledged in the notes, to avoid the oddities of tuning which are apparent in the f# minor version. I like the choice which Davidsson and Loft give us with their alternative recordings.

In the free-form compositions, then, my initial observation holds true, that Davidsson’s tempi are among the slowest but, even when the contrast is most evident, I almost never found his choices objectionably heavy.

The second item on Herrick’s Volume 3, three variations on the chorale Danket dem Herrn, BuxWV181, takes 2:55. Loft track the three sections of Davidsson’s performance separately, a total of 3:45 (Vol.2, CD2, trs.7-9). The Chorale Fantasia Nun lob mein Seel den Herrn, BuxWV212, one of several works based on the German Magnificat, takes 3:16 from Herrick, 3:19 from Koito and 4:18 from Davidsson (Vol.2, CD2, tr.12). From Herrick both works, and from Koito BuxWV212, convey the joyful nature of the words of the underlying chorales without in any way sounding too fast – happiness with a sense of occasion, as it were. Walter Kraft, on a 6-CD Vox set of Buxtehude’s complete organ works, achieves an enjoyable compromise between Herrick and Davidsson (CD6X-3613, good value at around £21). Though dating from the early 1960s, these performances are still well worth considering; although the Lübeck instrument was still in less than ideal state after Allied wartime bombing, the recording sounds much better now than on LP.

Davidsson scores over Herrick in one respect: he plays both works with his customary delicacy and lightness but I miss the restrained exuberance of the latter – a little too much restraint and not enough exuberance, as if these were meditative works on aspects of the Passion rather than expressions of joy: ‘Now thank the Lord’ and ‘My soul praises the Lord’ respectively.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Ton Koopman polishes off BuxWV181 in just 2:21 (Challenge Classics CC72243). If Davidsson misses the joy, Koopman’s virtuosity is undeniable but he’s just too fast and furious to admit of any sense of occasion here. Though a great admirer of Koopman at his best – for example in the superb Warner Apex bargain set of Handel’s Organ Concertos – I have to agree with Chris Bragg, who thought this and its companion on CC72242 too dissident, macho and eccentric – see review.

Bryndorf is a little slower than Herrick in BuxWV181, yet somehow manages to capture the grandeur of the work as effectively as Davidsson – in fact, if anything, though she takes mere seconds longer than Herrick, I found her performance just a little too solemn (DaCapo 6.220520). In BuxWV212, also, she’s a little slower than Herrick and Koito and just misses the joyful aspect of the music, though she compensates with some very interesting variations in her chosen registration (6.220514).

Julia Brown in BuxWV212 is also on the slow side at 4:17 (8.555775): continuing the pattern established in the free compositions, she tends to side with Davidsson in playing these chorale-based works slowly.

To sum up, then, in both the free compositions and the chorale-based works Davidsson is on the slow side but never impossibly so, and he compensates with some exceptionally delicate playing. The chief appeal of this set lies in the wonderful sound of the reconstructed instrument, as if a master baroque organ builder had risen from his grave and supervised an instrument in the state that Buxtehude would have heard. There are, therefore, powerful arguments for this set. If you decide to order the complete 7-CD set direct from Gothic Records – here – the price of $59.98 at the time of writing is attractive. You can also download the 2-CD sets from classicsonline.com for £15.98 each and the 3-CD volume for £23.97.

The three organists who contributed to the complete Naxos series also tend to be on the slow side but, again, there are compensations, certainly from Rübsam and Brown, less so from Cramer. The two volumes of this series which I reviewed, from Julia Brown (8.570311 – see review – and 8.570312 – see review), are also performed on an interesting modern organ which can cope with baroque mean-tone tuning and there is the fact that the CDs are available separately at Naxos’s competitive prices.

For those who like their Buxtehude on the faster side, there’s the DaCapo series, performed by Bine Bryndorf. The extra appeal of this set is its availability on single discs and in SACD sound. You’ll find my review of the sixth and final volume (6.220530) here. My judgement then, as now, was that Bryndorf was narrowly worth the extra cost over the Naxos series.

Christopher Herrick also tends to be on the fast side, though he usually also captures the sense of occasion. If you are collecting this series, you may think the gap between issues annoying, especially if you wanted everything in or soon after the tercentenary; otherwise you should continue to stay with what you like and wait for Volume 4. Like Bryndorf, he comes at full price, though you can save without sacrificing quality by downloading from Hyperion in lossless sound for £7.99 per volume – the same price as the mp3 downloads.

Ton Koopman’s series for Challenge Classics is also taking a long time to complete and, much as I like Koopman in other roles, including Buxtehude’s vocal works, I’d advise you to steer clear of his interpretations of Buxtehude’s keyboard works.

Though Walter Kraft’s complete series for Vox was recorded in the early 1960s on an organ which is no match for the instruments on the more recent recordings which I have mentioned, his tempi tend to cater well for all parties – those who like Buxtehude fast and those who prefer a greater sense of occasion. The complete set actually works out less expensive than the seven separate volumes of the Naxos series.

The least expensive way of all to obtain a substantial selection of Buxtehude’s organ music is fine performances – generally fast, but not unduly so – and in sound that still holds its own, is from the EMI Gemini selection of recordings made by Lionel Rogg. That would be my top recommendation for anyone who has not yet made the acquaintance of this fine music.

In addition to one or more of the above, Koi Koito’s three CDs on Claves offer Buxtehude’s organ music alongside that of several of his contemporaries at a reasonable price (around £13 in the UK).

If you are still undecided, or if you remain unconvinced that Buxtehude at his best can give even Bach a run for his money, you can try the Naxos, DaCapo, Challenge Classics and Vox recordings, as well as several others, if you subscribe to the Naxos Music Library.

Brian Wilson


Track details

Volume 1: Buxtehude and the Mean-tone Organ
CD1
Prelude, Fugue and Ciaconna in C, BuxWV137 [6:07]
Canzonetta in G, BuxWV171 [2:44]
Prelude in a minor, BuxWV152 [5:27]
Canzonetta in C, BuxWV167 [1:21]
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BuxWV211 [2:34]
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, BuxWV189 [1:56]
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, BuxWV188 [9:34]
Nun bitten wir der heil’gen Geist, BuxWV209 [3:10]
Præludium in g minor, BuxWV149 [9:56]
Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist, BuxWV208 [3:42]
Auf meinen lieben Gott, BuxWV179:
I. Allemande [1:03]
II. Double [1:01]
III. Sarabande [1:17]
IV. Courante [0:54]
V. Gigue [0:55]
Præludium in g minor, BuxWV163 [8:42]
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BuxWV223 [8:46]
Prelude and Fugue in D major, BuxWV139 [6:31]

CD 2
Prelude and Fugue in d minor, BuxWV140 [6:52]
Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BuxWV196 [4:17]
Præludium in G major, BuxWV147 [4:32]
Vater unser im Himmelreich, BuxWV219 [3:36]
Toccata in F, BuxWV157 [6:01]
Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott (Vater unser in Himmelreich), BuxWV207
Verse I [2:32]
Verse II [1:35]
Verse III [3:41]
Verse IV [2:04]
Prelude and Fugue in a minor, BuxWV153 [7:49]
Te Deum laudamus, BuxWV[218]
Præludium [2:01]
Te deum laudamus [3:24]
Pleni sunt coeli et terra [5:25]
Te Martyrium [1:29 ]
Tu devicto [3:27]
Passacaglia in d minor, BuxWV161 [6:28]
Toccata in d minor, BuxWV155 [8:14]

Volume 2: The Bach Perspective
CD 1
Præludium in C, BuxWV136 [6:07]
Es ist das Heil uns kommen her’, BuxWV186 [3:02]
Herr Christ, der einig Gottes Sohn, BuxWV192 [3:18]
Præludium in g, BuxWV148 [8:10]
Herr Christ, der einig Gottes Sohn, BuxWV191 [3:45]
Ach Gott und Herr, BuxWV177 [1:50]
Ach Gott und Herr, BuxWV177, second version [1:10]
Præludium in F, BuxWV144 [3:55]
Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt, BuxWV183 [4:15]
Præludium in E, BuxWV141 [7:23]
Ach Herr mir armen Sünder, BuxWV178 [4:37]
Ciaccona in c minor, BuxWV159 [6:52]
Fuga in C, BuxWV174 [3:01]
Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott, BuxWV184 [4:12]
Toccata in G, BuxWV164 [2:53]
Canzonetta in G, BuxWV172 [2:10]
Præludium in d minor (e minor), BuxWV142 [10:11]

CD 2
Præludium in C, BuxWV138 [4:25]
Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott, BuxWV200 [3:40]
Canzona in C, BuxWV166 [5:00]
Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott, BuxWV199 [3:56]
Ciaccona in e, BuxWV160 [6:09]
Præludium in e, BuxWV142 [10:45]
Danket dem Herren, BuxWV181 [1:05]
Alio Modo [1:10]
Tertio Modo [1:30]
Præludium in g, BuxWV150 [9:50]
Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl, BuxWV187 [3:15]
Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren, BuxWV212 [4:18]
Præludium in a, BuxWV158 [6:02]
Fuga in G, BuxWV175 [3:20]
Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam, BuxWV180 [3:48]
Præludium in C (E), BuxWV141 [6:55]

Volume 3: Dieterich Buxtehude and the Schnitger Organ
CD 1: Organ Chorales
Præludium in e minor, BuxWV143 [5:26]
Gott der Vater Wohn uns bei, BuxWV190 [3:14]
Kommt her zu mir, spricht Gottes Sohn, BuxWV201 [3:40]
Canzona in g minor, BuxWV173 [1:30]
Lobt Gott, ihr Christen allzugleich, BuxWV202 (G) [1:37]
Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort, BuxWV185 (g) [2:51]
Præludium in G, BuxWV162 [5:48]
Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, BuxWV198 (c) [2:03]
Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren, BuxWV215 (G) [2:44]
Herr Jesu Christ, ich weiß gar wohl, BuxWV193 (a) [3:22]
Von Gott will ich nicht laßen, BuxWV221 (a) [2:39]
Von Gott will ich nicht laßen, BuxWV220 (a) [2:14]
Courant Simple (8 variations), BuxWV245 [9:32]
Mensch, willst du leben seliglich, BuxWV206 (e) [2:50]
Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BuxWV224 (d) [1:58]
Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit, BuxWV222 (a) [2:53]
Canzonetta in a, BuxWV225 [2:11]
Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren (3 variations), BuxWV213 (G) [7:18]
Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren, BuxWV214 (G) [3:54]

CD 2: Christmas
Præludium in F, BuxWV145 [7:32]
Fuga in B-flat, BuxWV176 [5:08]
In dulci jubilo, BuxWV197 (G) [1:57]
Der Tag der ist so freudenreich, BuxWV182 (G) [4:33]
Toccata in F, BuxWV156 [10:00]
Puer Natus in Betlehem, BuxWV217 (a) [1:22]
Præludium in A, BuxWV151 [7:42]
Toccata in G, BuxWV165 [5:19]
Canzona in G, BuxWV170 [3:48]
Magnificat primi toni [Part 1], BuxWV204 [4:16]
Magnificat noni toni, BuxWV205 [1:35]
Magnificat noni toni, BuxWV205(b), verse 5 [2:14]
Magnificat primi toni, BuxWV203 [9:28]

CD3: Learned Counterpoint and chorale fantasia
Præludium in f-sharp/g minor, BuxWV146 [8:26]
Canzon in d, BuxWV168 [4:32]
Ich dank dir schon durch deinen Sohn, BuxWV195 [6:44]
Mit Fried und Freud fahr ich dahin, BuxWV76 [6:39]
Ich dank dir, lieber Herre, BuxWV194 [7:17]
Præludium in f-sharp, BuxWV146 [9:24]
Canzona in e minor, BuxWV169 [3:17]
Klaglied [4:02]
Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein, BuxWV210 [17:57]

Also available from Gothic as a 7 CD set: Code BOX-BUXTEHUDE
Full details of the organ and the registration employed are available from the Gothic website.

 


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