Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
Opera Omnia XIV: Vocal Works - Volume 5
Je hoher du bist BuxWV 55 [14:44]
Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe (II) BuxWV 39 [10:14]
Ich bin die Auferstehung und das Leben BuxWV 44 [5:42]
Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab (I) BuxWV 38 [3:12]
Bedenke Mensch das Ende BuxWV 9 [10:42]
Ich bin eine Blume zu Saron BuxWV 45 [10:06]
Jesu, komm, mein Trost und Lachen BuxWV 58 [8:05]
Jesu, dulcis memoria II - Ciacona BuxWV 57 [8:31]
Miriam Meyer (soprano); Siri Karoline Thornhill (soprano); Bettina Pahn (soprano); Dorothee Wohlgemuth (soprano); Bogna Bartosz (alto); Jörg Dürmüller (tenor); Klaus Martens (bass); Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra/Ton Koopman
rec. 2007, 2008, 2011, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Netherlands. DDD

Ton Koopman's survey of the entire works of Buxtehude seems to be getting more enjoyable and exciting with each release. Here we are at what must be (just under) about two-thirds of the way through - volume 14, the fifth in the series of the composer's vocal works. The five high soloists and a tenor and bass are lively, confident, sensitive - the dialogue in Bedenke Mensch das Ende [tr.5] is a good example of real, studied drama - and technically brilliant (listen to the ensemble singing and pacing towards the end of Jesu, komm, mein Trost und Lachen [tr.7], for instance). They infuse their performances with joy, depth, clarity, devotion and the other emotions required by the glorious - yet almost unknown - writing of Buxtehude … essentially Germanic but with the inevitable influence of Italy in general and Monteverdi in particular also much in evidence.

Some of the works on this CD were recorded as long ago as 2007 and 2008; the booklet is unusually unforthcoming about which and where. This suggests that Koopman may be 'collecting' from Buxtehude's œuvre at this stage in the project. But there is nothing about the collection on this generous and amply-recorded CD to make us think we're experiencing the 'also-rans' or dregs. This is music of great exactness: penetrating, striking and original. Buxtehude's gift for melody, structure and the creation of complex, subtle yet highly meaningful textures is in evidence from first note to last.

Only three or four of the works presented here are otherwise available - in compilations and on DVD, for example. So there is every reason to acquire this CD without hesitation - even were its performances not of the extremely high calibre that they are. Each of the soloists has something definite, communicative and enriching to offer. The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra is also on typically excellent form.

The new impetus given to music after the devastation of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) by the evolving Geistliches Konzert (sacred concerto) is also responsible for much of the measured yet unmistakable vivacity of Buxtehude's choral writing here … usually a short instrumental introduction, an impactful, self-contained and focused Biblical phrase or section of text is explored by one or more soloists - with instrumental 'support' rather than intricate comment in its own right. A true point of departure for and from the church cantata. The musicians involved in this excellent CD from Challenge thoroughly understand the idiom of the Geistliches Konzert.

This CD has other forms which are as striking by their then innovative nature at Buxtehude's time as by their 'stability' and overseeing command of the blend of musical form and idea with text are to us now. These include the strophic arias and ciacconne; and the concerto-aria cantatas (Je hoher du bist [tr.1] and Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe [tr.2]). One senses Buxtehude's delight at the freedom of expression which these forms afford him. And the performers' responsiveness and involvement … Buxtehude was laying all sorts of ground for others - not least Bach. But he was also writing devotional music for local 'consumption' and probably specific occasions in Lübeck. So the singers need to steer a fairly narrow course between emphasising the historical moment in which the music was written; and its more general meaning. They do. At the same time, their singing and playing have a modern touch … it's immediate, 'edgy' almost, the singers' articulation of the all-important texts are crystalline, liquid, limpid - without ever being florid.

The acoustic is clean, though perhaps a touch too dry for the not ostentatious but peacefully declamatory nature of some of the music. The booklet with notes by Christoph Wolff is highly informative and has the texts in German (and Latin for Jesu, dulcis memoria) and English. If you're already collecting this cycle, don't hesitate for a second. If you want to sample historically significant and beautiful music from the under-performed Buxtehude, this is a great place to start.

Mark Sealey

An outstanding volume in Koopman's complete Buxtehude cycle from Challenge will delight, stimulate and please in every respect.