Earlier in 2014 the Challenge website
suggested that the remarkable series
of all Buxtehude’s extant works — alas, many more were written which have
not survived — from Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Choir and
Orchestra was complete. The documentation on CC72256 referred to three more
releases. Earlier in the series as many as two dozen CD sets were projected
by the label’s PR staff.
This apparent confusion notwithstanding, here is Volume XIX - the ninth to
present the composer’s vocal works. In his notes in the booklet that comes
with the CD Koopman refers very obliquely to ‘new’ cantatas and ‘something
unexpected’; but that seems to relate to the quality of the music - not
anything actually newly discovered.
So for the time being let’s assume that this nineteenth volume is indeed
The quality of Buxtehude’s music here is every bit as high as any other
we’ve enjoyed on this monumental cycle from Challenge. Similarly, the care
and precision with which each bar, phrase, movement is approached expose the
music extremely well. Intonation, phrasing, vocal enunciation all reveal
what might otherwise seem obscure and overlooked music; this for all
Buxtehude’s reputation as such an attraction to Bach and founder of the
North German school.
Franz Tunder, Buxtehude’s predecessor at St Mary’s Lübeck, had begun the
series of Abendmusiken
- concerts in the evenings of the five
Sundays after St. Martin’s Day (November 11). They were short, taking place
from 4 to 5 o’clock; and independent of the liturgical requirements of the
more formal church service. The works on this CD - and indeed many others
from earlier in the cycle - illustrate the way in which Buxtehude chose to
continue what Tunder began. They’re in no way ‘occasional’ compositions,
Indeed, there’s a profundity and lasting quality in works like the
[tr.5]. This Thomist text would have been excluded
from the Lutheran liturgy. Indeed, much of the music here was probably
written to ‘divert’: a guidebook from 1697 describes the
(honourable or creditable) -
perhaps to emphasise the concerts’ worth despite their not forming part of
the preceding service. They are not trivial. Accordingly, Koopman approaches
them as substantial and telling. The singing and playing are equally
insightful, with due attention to the texts as vehicles for unambiguous
confessional thought … meditation and reflection on religious themes.
The ten pieces on this CD also have the merit of being presented in a
sequence that respects the variety of subject matter - appropriately for
their place in the church year. That is, towards its end — and thus only
slightly further away from its consequent new beginning. On listeners’ minds
would be the imminence of the Kingdom of God, and Christmas; and at the same
time the end of the world. Mixed with this is music that underlines the
personal, emotional relationship between self and deity. It’s easy to
discern the logical extension of the abandonment of the more impersonal seen
in by the Reformation as exemplified by the Pietist movement.
Although neither Buxtehude’s writing nor Koopman’s conception of
performance could be described as romantic, there is much feeling, warmth
and immediacy of expression and response in works like Fürchtet euch
[tr.7]. Edification there is but with a human, approachable and
personal mien. It is perhaps at this juncture more than any other that one
becomes aware of just how much more relaxed and able to project the essence
of Buxtehude’s music Koopman and his forces have become since the onset of
this excellent cycle eight years ago.
The music has always communicated positive energy - if not exactly the
(admittedly always controlled) gusto of J.S. Bach. It inspires and entices
the listener but in these later releases, one feels that Koopman has allowed
what he has learnt from such an exploration in depth of music to inform the
life which performers breathe into it three hundred years after it was
written. It’s music which is both specific to a time and place, and yet
which has universal appeal and relevance. The result is greater latitude in
expressiveness in the music-making. The singers have made the text and
melodic gestures of a work like Ich habe Lust
[tr.8] (“I wish to
depart and be with Christ”) all their own. In fact, it can really be
performed no other way. Again, neither idiosyncratically rhetorical nor
falsely idealistic but full of feeling and reflection.
The acoustic is that of the Waalse Kerk in Amsterdam, the venue used for
most of these recordings. It offers a controlled spaciousness which
concentrates the ear on the intricacies and delicacies without stifling the
moments of - always bearable - intensity, such as the last third of the
The booklet contains commentary by Christoph Wolff, and the full texts in
Latin/German with English translation.
Whether or not Koopman and Challenge have more delights, you’ll not want
to hesitate if you’ve been assembling this series over the last eight years.
If this gentle yet persuasive music of the German Baroque - which always has
something new to say, and new ways to say it - intrigues, then this CD is
one not to overlook.