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Bruhns cantatas BIS2271
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Nicolaus BRUHNS (1665-1697)
Cantatas and Organ Works Volume 1
De Profundis [13:50]
Jauchzet den Herren alle Welt [13:18]
Praeludium in E minor ('Great') [8:05]
Mein Herz ist bereit [10:10]
Paratum cor meum [12:28]
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland [10:15]
Der Herr hat seinen Stuhl im bereitet [7:31]
Dann Coakwell, James Taylor (tenor), Paul Max Tipton (bass-baritone)
Yale Institute of Sacred Music/Masaaki Suzuki (organ)
rec. 2016/17, Marquand Chapel, Yale University, USA
Texts and translations included
BIS BIS-2271 SACD [86:14]

Bruhns died at the-same age – 31 – as Schubert. Unfortunately, he left us less music (only twelve vocal compositions and five organ works) than Schubert did. I say 'unfortunately' since what we do have shows him to have been a very fine composer.

Like many musicians of his time, Bruhns belonged to a musical 'dynasty'. His grandfather, Paul, was a lutenist working in the ducal court at Goltorf and also for the town council of Lübeck. His second son, Peter, became director of music in Hamburg Cathedral and also for the council there. The youngest son, Paul (father of Nicolaus) became an organist.

Born at Schwabstedt (in Schleswig-Holstein), where his father Paul was organist, at the age of 16 Nicolaus was sent, accompanied by one of his brothers, to live in Lübeck with his uncle Peter, to study violin and viol with him and organ and composition with DIetrich Buxtehude, then organist at the Marienkirche in the city. Buxtehude soon came to hold young Nicolaus in high regard.

It was not, however, only as an organist that Bruhns flourished. He also became a highly accomplished violinist. Indeed, for some time (1686-9) he was violinist at the court in Copenhagen. According to Johannes Matheson the gifted Bruhns used to play elaborate improvisations on his violin, accompanying himself on the pedals of the organ!

A good place to begin listening to this SACD is the sacred concerto 'Mein Herz ist bereit' which begins with a glorious polyphonic sonatina in which the string writing surely reflects Bruhns' own brilliance as a violinist (Suzuki's players, Robert Mealy and Daniel Lee are excellent). Hugh Maclean, in his entry on Bruhns in the New Grove, writes that he “brought the solo cantata to new heights of virtuosity in Germany … in his sacred concertos”. Nowhere is the truth of this observation more comprehensively demonstrated than in this work, sung superbly by Paul Max Tipton, whose magnificent voice (used with tremendous agility) can also be relished in the
disc' s opening track, 'De Profundis' and 'Der Herr hat seinen Stuhl im Himmel bereitet'.

Indeed, the performances right across this disc are absolutely top-class. The singers and the
instrumentalists alike are deeply impressive, including those (Ezra Salter – cello, Grant Herreid – theorbo and Rachel Begley – dulcian) who, with the organ of Masaaki Suzuki, provide exemplary continuo work.

Unsurprisingly Bruhns’ organ works reflect the example of his second teacher Dietrich Buxtehude (the first having been his father). This is particularly true of his preludes. This disc gives us his 'Praeludium in E minor', the longer of two in the same key and thus carrying the epithet 'Great'). It incorporates dazzling toccata-like passages and some intricate fugal writing; it is a masterpiece that deserves to be better known. Suzuki is here playing the Krigbaum Organ in the Marquand Chapel at Yale, made by Taylor & Boody, which was installed in 2007, is modelled on North German instruments of the early and middle baroque and sounds wholly appropriate for Bruhns’ music. No one who has heard Suzuki's outstanding disc) of Buxtehude's organ works (review) will be surprised to discover that he proves to be an equally perceptive interpreter of the works of one of that great organist's most significant students.

All of Bruhns' works (all 17 of them!) have, of course, been recorded before. There are, for example, satisfactory accounts of the organ works by Ingo Duwensee (MDG 061878) and of the vocal compositions, directed by Claudio Astronio (review). To be more exact, I thought these recordings were 'satisfactory' until I heard this new disc, which accesses and articulates the very spirit and intellect of Bruhns' music. It also comes come to us in superb recorded sound, atmospheric but precise. (I have listened to the disc only in straight CD form. I imagine it sounds even better in SACD).

This is, by any standards, an outstanding disc – in terms of the inspiring coherence of Masaaki Suzuki's vision of Nicolaus Bruhns’ music, of the musical insight, of the recorded sound and of the informative and well-written booklet essay by Professor Markus Rathey. Any readers with a fondness for German baroque music owe it to themselves to hear this disc. Any who do so will, I feel sure, wait eagerly (like me!) for the appearance of volume 2 which, given the remarkable length of the present disc, may be sufficient to bring the project to its completion.

Glyn Pursglove

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