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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
Membra Jesu nostri BuxWV 75 (1680)
Eloise Irving, Charlotte Ives (sopranos)
Daniel Collins (countertenor)
Nicholas Mulroy (tenor)
Reuben Thomas (bass)
The Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Orpheus Britannicus
Newe Vialles/Andrew Arthur
rec. 2018, Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge, UK

Often referred to as the “first Lutheran oratorio”, Membra Jesu nostri was composed in 1680 by Dietrich Buxtehude and is regarded as the composer’s masterpiece. It is a set of seven cantatas on “The most holy limbs of our suffering Jesus”, with each one addressing a different part of Christ’s suffering body whilst on the cross – the feet, knees, hands, sides, breast, heart and face. The work is dedicated to the Swedish Court Music Director Anders von Düben, who held the autograph score until 1732 when he donated it to the Library of the University of Uppsala. Each of the seven cantatas follows a similar pattern, beginning with an instrumental introduction, then a choral section that employs biblical texts to identify each of the seven parts of Jesus’s body. This is then followed by a solo aria in which Buxtehude employs the text of a medieval spiritual poem thought to be by Arnulf von Löwen, with the choral section repeated to bring the cantata to its conclusion. Only in the first of the seven cantatas, Ad pedes, does this really change, with the solo aria being repeated by all the singers at the end. Also, in the seventh cantata, Ad faciem, rather than the recapitulation of the chorus, the cantata and the work as a whole are concluded with the Amen. The scoring of the vocal parts is similar throughout except in the sixth cantata, Ad cor, which calls for the addition of five viola de gambas, although these can be replaced by more modern tuned strings.

I now have three recordings of this wonderful work and I must say that this performance sounds quite English in comparison to those by Ton Koopman (9029591410) and Konrad Junghänel (HMA 1951912), not that this is a bad thing. It has a nod to the great choral tradition of the Oxbridge universities, which I find refreshing. It is also the longest version that I have, or indeed know, at around ten minutes slower than my other two renditions, but this is of no matter when the performance is of the quality of this one.

From the outset this is a spiritual performance, with even the instrument sections acting as a sorrowful introduction to the text. However, it is in the vocal sections that it really shines, with The Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall being on excellent form and the five vocal soloists of Orpheus Britannicus serving to lift the performance even higher. From Eloise Irving’s first entry with Salve mundi salutare, salve, salve Jesu care! it is clear that this is going to be something wonderful and so it proves, with each of the vocal soloists being admirable and adding greatly to the enjoyment of the music. I particularly liked the inclusion of the countertenor Daniel Collins whose voice is more suited to this music than Elisabeth Popien for Junghänel’s interpretation and who is the equal of Michael Chance and René Jacobs for Koopman. The aria Salve Jesu, rex sanctorum of the second cantata, Ad genua, which Collins shares with the excellent tenor Nicholas Mulroy, is particularly fine, especially as the other three soloists also join in. The quality of the choir really shines through in the Amen at the end of the work. The different sections take it in turns to annunciate the word before the final summation when they all come together in a hymn of praise. Throughout, the instrumentalists of the Orpheus Britannicus are excellent, especially their organist, Silas Wollston, who adds greatly to this performance as do the ensemble Newe Vialles.

From what I can remember the acoustic of The Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge, is clear and bright, but it is a long time since I went to choral evensong there. This is something that comes over in the recorded sound, which is detailed and well-engineered. The booklet contains some comprehensive and informative notes about The Düben Collection, Buxtehude and his masterpiece, and is illustrated with facsimile photographs of the autograph score, as well as the complete texts in Latin and English. This is an outstanding work that is given an excellent performance here, one which once again shows this piece to be a worthy alternative to the great Passions of J S Bach and Telemann, or the Seven Last Words of Haydn.
Stuart Sillitoe

Cantata I. Ad pedes.
1 Sonata [1:05]
2 Ecce super montes (I) [1:33]
3 Salve mundi salutare (I) [5:01]
4 Ecce super montes (II) [1:32]
5 Salve mundi salutare (II) [1:03]
Cantata II. Ad genua.
6 Sonata in tremulo [1:09]
7 Ad ubera portabimini (I) [1:37]
8 Salve Jesu, rex sanctorum [3:37]
9 Ad ubera portabimini (II) [1:46]
Cantata III. Ad manus.
10 Sonata [1:07]
11 Quid sunt plagae iste? (I) [2:20]
12 Salve Jesu, pastor bone [4:50]
13 Quid sunt plagae iste? (II) [2:32]
Cantata IV. Ad latus.
14 Sonata [0:46]
15 Surge, amica mea (I) [1:50]
16 Salve latus salvatoris [4:16]
17 Surge, amica mea (II) [2:00]
Cantata V. Ad pectus.
18 Sonata [0:46]
19 Sicut modo geniti infantes (I) [3:03]
20 Salve, salus mea, Deus [4:49]
21 Sicut modo geniti infantes (II) [3:14]
Cantata VI. Ad cor.
22 Sonata [2:31]
23 Vulnerasti cor meum (I) [2:57]
24 Summi regis cor, aveto [3:13]
25 Vulnerasti cor meum (II) [2:50]
Cantata VII. Ad faciem.
26 Sonata [0:57]
27 Illustra faciem tuam [1:44]
28 Salve, caput cruentatum [4:02]
29 Concerto: Amen [1:52]

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