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Diet(e)rich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
Organ Works
Complete listing at end of review
Marie-Claire Alain (Schnitger Ahrend organ)
rec. Groningen, Netherlands, 30 September 1986. DDD
WARNER APEX 2564 651790 [72:49 + 71:20]

I mentioned this super-budget 2-CD set of Buxtehude’s organ music, originally recorded by Erato, when I reviewed a new album of organ music by Buxtehude, Bruhns and Bach (Parnassie PAR62, Benoit Dumon) in Download News 2014/10. If that very successful recording has given you a taste for exploring Buxtehude’s music further — only three pieces by him on that recital — you may well wish to turn to the organist with whom I compared Dumon when I wrote that he might well be the best French interpreter of the organ music of the North German School since Marie-Claire Alain.

If you are wondering why I have taken so long to write this review since that brief mention, it’s not for lack of having listened to and enjoyed the recording — frequently. Ascribe the delay to laziness in facing the onerous task of typing in all the track details and timings. If the review is still a little on the short side that’s because there are only so many ways that I can say how fine the performances are. Alain’s playing and well-chosen registration on an organ ideal for Buxtehude fit the music perfectly.

My only regret is that Warner couldn’t fit onto the 2-CD format all 36 works originally released by Erato in 1989, 190 minutes in total, and that they didn’t add a 3-CD set variant to the Apex label.

For the Parnassie review I listened to Alain’s recordings of BuxWV149 and 211 alongside Dumon’s and there’s very little to choose. Alain is a little more nimble in BuxWV149 but there’s never any sense that Dumon allows the music to drag; if she brings out the music’s brilliance slightly better, he is a little more persuasive in the more reflective sections.

I mentioned other recordings in that Download News. Completists will want René Saorgin on Harmonia Mundi, currently available only as downloads. If anything he outshines even Alain and Dumon at times.

I forgot to mention some other distinguished recordings of Buxtehude’s organ music in that Download News, though I’ve mentioned them elsewhere. Christopher Herrick’s excursus is now complete on five individual CDs from Hyperion — see review of Volume 5 with links to other volumes. For a comparison of the first three volumes of that series with the complete set by Hans Davidsson on Loft Recordings and of both with releases on Naxos and DaCapo I refer you to my review of the Loft set.

Fine as these complete sets are, the main competition for the Alain discs comes from another budget-price twofer of recordings by Lionel Rogg on the EMI Gemini label — review. That seems to be out of stock wherever I looked. I hope that Warner will restore it to circulation but meanwhile you can download it from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk in 320 kb/s mp3 for £5.99. Amazon list it as out of stock, for delivery when available, but at £17.91 or £19.99 from one of their associates, both a considerable increase on the original super-budget price.

I made the Rogg recording Bargain of the Month. We no longer have such a category but if we had, the Alain would equally deserve it. At around £8 or less the Apex won’t break the bank even if you already have the Rogg which duplicates slightly less than half of the contents. If forced to choose between the two it would have to be Alain, whose performances are for the most part slightly more sprightly than Rogg’s. Both recordings have come up well: the Apex is DDD, the Gemini ADD.

The Parnassie recording demonstrates how much Bach owed to his predecessors and how well Buxtehude stands up to the comparison, especially the longer works on CD2 of the Apex release. If you want to compare the two composers’ organ music Warner offer a handy opportunity to do so because the Apex series includes a single-disc selection, this time originally from the Teldec stable, performed by Ton Koopman who combines eccentricity with brilliance in equal measures (2564679404). Conveniently Warner point you in that direction on the back of the booklet.

The booklet is the least attractive part of a tempting deal. As usual with the Apex series it contains just the bare bones: titles, keys, BuxWV (Buxtehude Werke-Verzeichnis) numbers and track lengths. You need 20/20 vision to see the track times and the recording date and venue. The original booklet was a bit rudimentary but it contained the specification of the organ and brief notes on the music. The cover shots of Apex reissues are usually baffling; this one is more so than ever: wallpaper peeling off a wall?

Brian Wilson

Complete listing
Præludium in g minor, BuxWV149 [6:52]
Choral Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BuxWV223 [6:11]
Præludium in f sharp minor, BuxWV146 [7:36]
Choral In dulci jubilo, BuxWV197 [2:35]
Præludium in D, BuxWV139 [5:09]
Choral Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BuxWV211 [2:05]
Præludium in C, BuxWV137 [5:09]
Choral Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt, BuxWV183 [3:34]
Præludium in d minor, BuxWV140 [5:44]
Choral Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott, BuxWV199 [3:55]
Præludium in e minor, BuxWV142 [8:22]
Choral Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder, BuxWV178 [3:28]
Præludium in F, BuxWV145 [6:10]
Præludium in a minor, BuxWV153 [6:18]
Fuga in C, BuxWV174 [3:00]
Passacaglia in d minor, BuxWV161 [5:48]
Ciacona in e minor, BuxWV160 [5:10]
Ciacona in c minor, BuxWV159 [6:06]
Canzonetta in G, BuxWV171 [2:29]
Magnificat Primi Toni, BuxWV203 [7:48]
Choral Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich, BuxWV182 [3:59]
Toccata in d minor, BuxWV155 [6:58]
Te Deum laudamus, BuxWV218 [14:18]
Toccata in F, BuxWV156 [7:38]
Choral Nimm von uns, Herr, BuxWV207 [8:05]