Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (c.1638-1707)
Opera Omnia XII
Chamber Music I: Sonatas from manuscript sources
Sonata in C major for two violins, viola da gamba and basso continuo BuxWV 266 [7:54]
Sonata in A minor for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo BuxWV 272 [6:50]
Sonata in D major for viola da gamba, violone and basso continuo BuxWV 267 [7:54]
Sonata (with Suite) in B-flat major for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo BuxWV 273 [13:12]
Sonata in D minor for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo BuxWV Anh. 5 [2:58]
Sonata in G major for two violins, viola da gamba and basso continuo BuxWV 271 [8:31]
Sonata in D major for viola da gamba and basso continuo BuxWV 268 [4:35]
Sonata in F major for two violins, viola da gamba and basso continuo BuxWV 269 [6:53]
Catherine Manson, David Rabinovich (violins); Jonathan Manson (viola da gamba); Ton Koopman (harpsichord and organ); Mike Fentross (lute); Christine Sticher (violone)
rec. Waalse Kerke, Amsterdam, February 2010. DDD
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72251 [58.50]

This recording presents the eight unpublished chamber works of Dieterich Buxtehude. As the excellently clear booklet notes by Christoph Wolff explain, these pieces show a less uniform scoring than those which were published in Hamburg in the late seventeenth-century, which, Wolff speculates, may be a reason for their relative neglect: the varied instrumentation by which they are characterised made them less suitable for printing as a set.

The commercial stringencies of the 1690s notwithstanding, these are marvellously adventurous works in which all parts are given equal prominence within the texture. The effect is of truly three-dimensional Sonatas which, in this respect, foreshadow the String Quartets of Haydn and, more especially, of Mozart. They are here afforded performances of much understanding by these fine musicians, whose careful consideration of the works’ compositional structures produces realisations which are full of energy and vitality, shot through with light; but also of great strength and authority.

The sophistication and artistry of the performers is immediately evident from the first piece on the disc: the Sonata in C for two violins, viola da gamba and basso continuo (BuxWV 266). The sounds of the bowed string instruments are well enough differentiated to enhance the counterpoint, but similar enough to ensure an integrated sound. The bow is used primarily as an expressive medium; and subtly shaped phrases and finely graded repeated notes serve top enhance the structure of the melodic lines. Nuanced playing is also characteristic of the Sonata in A minor for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo (BuxWV 272) that follows, the violin and viola da gamba complementing each other admirably; this Sonata is also notable for its incisive rhythmic control and employment of virtuosic bowing techniques, which are effortlessly applied.

The continuo is brought more to the fore in the following two Sonatas: and the fuller harmonic background appears to stimulate an even more heightened response in terms of the shaping of melodic lines. The Sonata in B-flat (BuxWV 273) features some especially fine lute playing in the first movement, which lends an air of Mediterranean exuberance to the work. Indeed, the use of the lute is particularly successful in all the works presented on this disc, as it provides a piquant contrast to the chamber organ and, even in those works in which the harpsichord is used as the keyboard continuo instrument, the sound is sufficiently different to allow for interesting and, at times, dramatic changes of colour; which are, however, never employed gratuitously, but always with regard to the formal structure of the music. The continuo instruments are also recorded with enough clarity and afforded enough prominence to enable both horizontal and vertical components of the part to be clearly heard.

The booklet is clearly presented with, as has previously been mentioned, extremely informative and well-written notes. Each work on the disc is presented on one track – the individual movements are not separated by track breaks – which means that each Sonata is given as a single entity, and is clearly intended to be listened to as such. The only – very minor – quibble is that the single violinist in the works for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo (Tracks 2, 4 and 5) is not identified.

This is an extremely intelligent, convincingly performed and well-packaged disc, which stimulates the listener to investigate further the chamber music of this relatively little-known, somewhat overshadowed composer. It presents all that musical performance at its best should involve: a cerebral, authoritative approach; a demonstrative realisation; and a performance that has a zest of life, freshness and vigour.

Em Marshall-Luck

A performance that has a zest of life, freshness and vigour.