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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
Complete Organ Works - Volume 1
Friedhelm Flamme (organ)
rec. 10-13 May 2018, Klosterkirche St. Georg am Gut Grauhof, Goslar, Germany
CPO 555 253-2 SACD [2 discs: 135:50]

I might cause a little controversy: I think that Dietrich Buxtehude’s organ music is as important in the development of German music as that of J. S. Bach, but then each to their own. I have two complete recordings each of their organ works. (That is only a drop in the ocean compared to the shelfful my friend and colleague Stephen Greenbank has, but it gives me a good flavour of the men and their music. I also have single- and double-disc recital recordings.) Each of the composers hold a central position in the development of the great German organ school, which contrary to belief continues even today. Yes, Bach can be seen as a pinnacle along the way, but recall that he walked 250 miles from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear for himself Buxtehude the great organist.

I have the classic and essential René Saorgin’s set (Harmonia Mundi HMX 2901484.88). Its clam-top box opens to reveal a set of five retro black discs made to look like LPs that reflect its late 1960s and early 1970s recording dates. Despite its age, it still has an awful lot to offer the listener. I also have Bine Bryndorf’s set (Naxos 8.206005), which seems a little more complete Saorgin’s. Six discs offer another hour of equally compelling modern (2003-2007) recordings. So, this new release has a lot to live up to, and I am glad to say that Friedhelm Flamme meets head on the challenges that Buxtehude presents. The highest quality of the recorded sound might be a winner for some; it certainly adds to the clarity of the recording. The organ Flamme plays is the celebrated Christoph-Treutmann-Orgel built in 1734-1737.

In her article for the New Grove, Kerala J. Snyder wrote: “The music Buxtehude composed for the organ must be approached through the characteristic sound of the north German organ, with its contrasting colours and its independent and strongly voiced pedal.” Flamme does that, indeed. This recording could be seen as a continuation of his extensive survey of the “Organ Works of the North German Baroque”, also for CPO; with his Heinrich Scheidemann disc the cycle reaches volume 15. That could be seen as laying the groundwork for the work of the master that is Buxtehude. This disc shows many years of experience in performing and recording the music from this school.

Right from the opening track, the Praeludium in C major, BuxWV137, it is clear that here is a wonderful interpreter of Buxtehude’s magnificent music. His relaxed playing, marginally slower than the others’, helps bring out the majesty of the music. This is especially true in the central fugal section, in which Flamme gives a multi-faceted performance. The rest of the first disc continues in a similar fashion. There is a wonderfully colourful reading of the two settings of the Magnificat primi toni BuxWV 204 and 205. The renditions of Ich dank dir, lieber Herre, BuxWV 194 and more especially Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der den Tod überwand, BuxWV 198 really shine; Flamme’s musicianship comes to the fore.

Rather than with a prelude, the second disc opens with a nice rendition of the Toccata in D minor, BuxWV15, but it is the following arrangement of Mit Fried und Freud, ich fahr dahin BuxWV 75 that makes the early impression. Again, there are many highlights throughout this disc, for example the Toccata in F Major, BuxWV157 with it colourful spectrum and range. Other highlights include the ever-popular Chorale Prelude Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott BuxWV 184. The Fugue in G major, BuxWV175 and Mensch, willst du leben seliglich BuxWV 206 both get wonderful performances. The set ends in a vein similar to how it began, with a striking performance of a prelude, this time the Praeludium in E Major, BuxWV141.

Friedhelm Flamme has a wonderful touch. As Snyder calls for, he produces a colourful and characterful performance clearly based upon the great German tradition. The recording stands up to comparison very well indeed, although one must wait for the complete set to do a detailed analysis. I look forward to future releases in this series.

Stuart Sillitoe

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