Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (c1637-1707)
Membra Jesu Nostri BuxWV 75 (1680) [53:09]
Fried- und Freudenreiche Hinfahrt BuxWV 76 (1671) [12:02]
La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
rec. 10-12 November 2010, Begijnhofkerk, Sint Truiden, Belgium
ACCENT ACC24243 [65:11]
Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri consists of seven cantatas, each a meditation on the wounds of Christ on the Cross. There are detailed historical notes and some analysis of the music in Joachim Steinheuer’s booklet notes, but to sum up, here is music often of the utmost tenderness in simplicity both of instrumentation and musical content. This is at once both its strength and its difficulty in performance, with the risk of things sounding rather samey by the time you reach the end.
There are a few more than decent recordings of this music around. I have a good deal of time for Masaaki Suzuki’s recording on BIS, which brings out plenty of drama and contrast with a feeling of large scale, using a full chorus and soloists to bring out the best of all that depth and restraint. There is also a Chandos recording with Emma Kirkby, Michael Chance et al which is a useful reference (see review), though one which depends rather on your liking the character of these particular soloists.
This Accent version led by Sigiswald Kuijken comes across as quite a different animal to both of these examples. Fans of the label will know a little of the clean sense of transparency they can expect from the recording, and the lighter, arguably thinner texture from the strings of La Petite Bande is apparent from the outset. With one voice to a part choruses we lack the sense of heft and contrast from Suzuki’s BIC performance, but gain in intimacy as a result. The singers are generally good, though Anne-Katrin Schenk’s Soprano I is one with a mildly helium-powered colouration – strongest in stratospheric heights. Gunther Vandeven’s high male alto is a good deal more neutral than Michael Chance; once again a question of taste. Tenor Jens Weber is very fine, but even he is pushed to his limits in Buxtehude’s extreme highs in track 20, Pectus mihi confer mundum.
This is a performance with many beautiful moments. The Quid sunt plagae and its preceding Sonata of III. Ad manus is sublime. There is a delicious way Kuijken obtains expression and intensity even with this minimum of resources and a distinct lack of ornamentation, though not an entire lack of vibrato, which can make all the difference at certain points. This is however a performance which gives a cooler and more introverted impression in comparison to the other examples. Not to say there are not lively moments: the Sicut modo geniti which opens V. Ad pectus has plenty of rhythmic verve. There is no feel of dragging or artificially mannered laying on of expression with the figurative trowel.
If you like your Buxtehude without too much extra character or unique personality then this will be the one for you. I don’t mean this as a backhanded criticism, more to point out that there are few elements here which will prevent you wanting to come back for repeat listening. It doesn’t generate much excitement, but this is in the nature of the music. La Petite Band is very good throughout, but there is a strange moment at the end of track 6, the Sonata in tremulo. This is taken more slowly than many versions - an interesting rather than a disappointing feature, but there is a moment at the end where the bass steadfastly refuses to follow the ritenuto of the upper strings and ends up having to skip in an extra note to keep together in the final chords.
The filler is a very fine five part funerary lamentation, Fried- und Freudenreiche Hinfahrt, which couples very well with the cantatas which precede it. These are pieces with exquisitely wrought counterpoint, and some wonderfully scrunchy dissonant chromatic clashes to highlight significant words and create an atmosphere of potent and moving grief. The final Klag-Lied is a masterpiece, and with some spine-tingling high notes from the soprano would fit well as part of a Peter Greenaway film soundtrack.
In all I would count this as a successful release, though perhaps not quite a definitive Membra Jesu Nostri. This is however a space in which you will always be able to lose yourself in a world of richly expressive ecclesiastical mourning and emerge, sadder and wiser, making the playful sunlight of your day that much brighter and attractive.
Dominy Clements
Total immersion Lutheran ecclesiastical mourning.