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Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637/1639?-1707)
Complete Chamber Music
Catherine Manson, David Rabinovich (violin)
Paolo Pandolfo, Jonathan Manson (viola da gamba)
Mike Fentross (lute)
Christine Sticher (violone)
Ton Koopman (harpsichord, organ)
rec. 2010/11, Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam; Geertekerk Utrecht, The Netherlands
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72890 [3 CDs: 191:10]

Ton Koopman’s Buxtehude Opera Omnia is a 30 CD collection on the Challenge Classics label which was released and is still available on single discs, but has now been released as a single big box (CC72827) and with different genres of Buxtehude’s output also collected into bargain box sets as with this 3 CD edition of the complete chamber music, so we can mix and match without having to acquire undesired bulk. This appears as a three disc jewel case with a cardboard sleeve and a single booklet, presumably with the original liner notes. Each of these discs was reviewed on MWI (reviews of Volume 1 ~ Volume 2 ~ Volume 3), but with high quality of performance and production there can hardly be any argument about these recordings being very fine indeed.

Dieterich Buxtehude’s chamber works are among the least known of his compositions, having become neglected as unfashionable even before the composer’s death, and regardless of his Trio Sonatas Opp. 1 & 2 having been published. The appearance of a follow-up Op. 2 is evidence of demand for these pieces in the 17th century, but their unconventional instrumental scoring and the rise of modern Italian trio sonatas by Corelli, Albinoni and others in the early 18th century ensured their almost complete oblivion.

Buxtehude was something of a pioneer with regard to these chamber sonatas, being a form that was still in its infancy at their time of composition. These works are however by no means lacking in terms of sophistication, and they are regarded as belonging among the most attractive and technically demanding examples of this genre. There is some influence from Italy here, with comparable works by Venetian composer Giovanni Legrenzi (1626-1690) identified as models, confirmed by his music being widely available in Northern Europe in Buxtehude’s day.

The unpublished works on CD 1 come from manuscript copies done by Buxtehude’s friend and colleague Gustav Düben, and they vary from four-part instrumentation with two violins to solo viola da gamba with continuo. There is a considerable amount of virtuoso writing, and with slow and fast movements alternating there is no shortage of contrast in each piece. Continuo keyboard is also a source of variety, with harpsichord or organ filling out the harmonies and adding attack to the rhythms. There is a playful feel to many of the quicker movements, and the transparency on the recording adds to the joy in all of those instrumental interactions; Buxtehude’s free-flowing ‘fantasia’ inventiveness proving to be hugely entertaining

The set of seven Trio Sonatas Op. 1 is thought to have been published in around 1694, preceding the Op. 2 set by a couple of years. Consistency of form is more or less absent here, with each sonata having different sequences of movements, and a wide diversity in terms of proportion. The booklet notes point out for instance that Sonata IV (BuxWV 155) opens with a section of 113 bars, where Sonata II (BuxWV 253) starts with one of just 3 bars. The concept of “stylus fantasticus” employed here was an idea in favour in North Germany in the late 17th century, and the result is that of quite surprising and at times daring sounding composition. There are moments of intriguing dissonance, and textures that at times call something like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to mind. This is the sort of thing that, when played with this kind of verve and imagination, brushes aside Buxtehude’s image of being somewhat stuffy and dull. There is some Bach-like counterpoint, but this is often coupled with an irrepressible energy and drive, and the tenderness in many of the slow sections can be truly affecting.

The Trio Sonatas Op. 2 also have no consistent formal structure, but tend to close with a vigorous fast section and follow early multi-sectional Italian models, with liberal use of dance-rhythms and either free-form or fugal counterpoint. Inventive freedom in the slow sections is again broad and engaging, and full of attractive melodic expressiveness. The feeling is of a composer released from the demands of church duties and the setting of text, and revelling in the flexibility of a multi-instrumental context rather than the relative purity of writing for the pipes of an organ. Little eccentricities pop up all over the place, and hearing this music it is easy to understand why Buxtehude was so influential and admired by the likes of J.S. Bach. None of the sections have separate access points but this is a minor caveat. If you missed these recordings the first time around, grab them now in their box-set form for just a few pounds more than only one of the original volumes.

Dominy Clements

CD 1 Sonatas from manuscript sources
Sonata in C major for two violins, viola da gamba and basso continuo BuxWV 266 [7:54]
Sonata in A minor for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo BuxWV 272 [6:50]
Sonata in D major for viola da gamba, violone and basso continuo BuxWV 267 [7:54]
Sonata (with Suite) in B flat major for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo BuxWV 273 [13:12]
Sonata in D minor for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo BuxWV Anh. 5 [2:58]
Sonata in G major for two violins, viola da gamba and basso continuo BuxWV 271 [8:31]
Sonata in D major for viola da gamba and basso continuo BuxWV 268 [4:35]
Sonata in F for two violins, viola da gamba and basso continuo BuxWV 269 [6:53]
CD 2 Trio Sonatas Op. 1
Sonata in F op. 1 nr. 1 BuxWV 252 [9:21]
Sonata in G op. 1 nr. 2 BuxWV 253 [7:15]
Sonata in a op. 1 nr. 3 BuxWV 254 [10:14]
Sonata in B op. 1 nr. 4 BuxWV 255 [8:04]
Sonata in C op. 1 nr. 5 BuxWV 256 [8:23]
Sonata in d op. 1 nr. 6 BuxWV 257 [9:33]
Sonata in e op. 1 nr. 7 BuxWV 258 [7:00]
CD 3 Trio Sonatas Op. 2
Sonata in B flat op.2 nr.1 BuxWV 259 [8:27]
Sonata in D op.2 nr.2 BuxWV 260 [14:16]
Sonata in g op.2 nr. 3 BuxWV 261 [13:18]
Sonata in c op.2 nr. 4 BuxWV 262 [8:20]
Sonata in A op.2 nr. 5 BuxWV 263 [10:41]
Sonata in E op.2 nr. 6 BuxWV 264 [9:30]
Sonata in F op.2 nr. 7 BuxWV 265 [8:51]

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