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Buxtehude Complete Works

Vocal Works 1

Cantata “Wacht! Euch zum Streit gefasset macht”

Caroline Stam, Orlanda Velez Isidro, Johannette Zomer - sopranos

Robin Blaze - alto

Andreas Karasiak - tenor

Klaus Mertens - bass


Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir/Ton Koopman


Challenge Records – CC72241 – 2CDs - 2hrs 17mins

Recorded September 2005


Buxtehude's responsibilities as organist at Lubeck's Marienkirche included composing music for and generally organising the famous Abendmusiken – an event peculiar to that city which took place after the evening church service on the five Sundays between Martinmass and Christmass. It seems that these events were intended as entertainment as well as scriptural instruction, and a specially composed cantata would be serialised throughout the season.


Although Buxtehude composed many of these cantatas during his 40 year period in office, no scores with a firm provenance have been preserved. The work presented here stems from an incomplete and un-attributed manuscript in the Uppsala University Library.


Ton Koopman, with all the wealth of his specialist knowledge, has lovingly reconstructed it to give a performance that if not genuinely the work of Buxtehude, comes from his immediate circle and typifies what would have been heard at the Abendmusiken.


It is highly narrative in character, and immediately draws the listener in. For an audience sitting in the dim candlelit cathedral it must have been irresistible. A gloriously relaxed opening Sonata (Koopman really allows time for the music to breathe), is broken into by the opening aria Wacht! Wacht! Wacht!


Each of the three acts uses a different combination of soloists, presumably to match singers who would be available on the various Sundays, or to spread opportunity of taking part. Act 1 introduces the bass, but is mainly given to three sopranos, a combination which immediately calls to mind the three ladies of The Magic Flute , especially in Buxtehude's aria Ei, wir mussen mit stoltzieren und bravieren where the opening word is repeated three times just as Mozart's ladies are apt to do.


Act 2 uses two sopranos with alto, tenor, and bass, and Act 3 just one soprano, again with alto, tenor and bass. The chorus are employed throughout.


Soloists, choir and orchestra are all exemplary, but I must single out Soprano II, Orlanda Velez Isidro, for special mention – her's is a really lovely voice. All perform with meticulous attention to detail and the result is devout without being in any way dull, in fact it is a positive delight to listen to.


These discs present the opportunity to reinstate what must presently be regarded as a pretty obscure piece of 17th century church music, to a place of prominence and popularity.


Serena Fenwick


Vols 3 and 4 (Organ works 1 and 2)


Ton Koopman (organ)

Challenge Classics CC72242 and 72243


Koopman's Buxtehude pilgrimage is admirable in every way, musicological and musical. The latest instalment consists of two organ discs (at a rough estimate, another two will be needed to complete the extant organ oeuvre), and since the tunings are different on the two organs, you will have to buy both CDs.


Buxtehude, as is well known, was greatly admired by J S Bach, who also played a significant role in disseminating the older master's organ works; in the process ensuring that a greater proportion was not lost for ever. Indeed, one work on Disc 1, the immensely fine BuxWV210, exists only in a manuscript written by the thirteen year-old Bach and discovered only in 2006. There are in fact only about 90 surviving pieces; shorter chorale preludes and longer preludes and toccatas; this is related to the frequency with which organ pieces were improvised.

In comparison with the first issue of keyboard works, the musical imagination in the organ works is much more striking, not least in terms of the variety of use of pedals, different manuals and so forth. Buxtehude innovated far more in organ music than in harpsichord; we hear a delightful variety of timbres and textures. So there is general musicological interest, not simply in terms of Buxtehude's own famed stylus fantasticus, but also in seeing the clear influence on the Bach organ style.


The organ in the Mary church in Luebeck where Buxtehude worked was retuned in 1683 from meantone (equal temperament) to Werkmeister, so it is musicologically appropriate to record the later works (Disc 1) on that tuning, and the earlier (Disc 2) on the other. Comparison between the two discs is instructive, in particular in showing how the ‘unequal' tuning (Werkmeister has true fifths but unequal thirds) assists the player in conveying emotion.


A converse illustration is to see that on a modern grand piano, the gradations of tone colour are achieved by chord weighing and the performer's own interpretation in ways that are intrinsically conveyed by the overtones of the tuning. The Werkmeister-tuned organ is from the St Nicholas church in Altenbruch; it does indeed add a plangency to the tonal texture. Among many highlights, one can mention the In Dulci Jubilo, with its bell accompaniments, and the sparkling Passacaglia BuxWV191.


Koopman's playing is immaculate, his fast, neat fingers and sensitivity to different effects are both excellent; the organ of the St Jacobi in Luedlington has an especially grateful sound (Disc 2) the notes by Christoph Wolff, doyen of Baroque scholars, are accessible but learned. Even if you collect few organ CDs, these are must-haves for any lover of Baroque music.


Ying Chang

Vocal Works 2
Cantatas, Concertos and miscellaneous pieces

Singers and instrumenalists directed by Ton Koopman.

Challenge Classics CC 72244 [151 mins]


This is a 2-disc miscellany, many of the items secular and occasional, the whole constituting a concert to delight us without any liturgical intention. Being a non-specialist and having grown to believe that Buxtehude was a sort of sub-Bach, I have been bowled over by this release. A few of the works are not categorically assigned to Buxtehude, but don't let that worry you. The whole recorded Channel Classics oeuvre is dedicated to musicologist and 'charismatic choir-master' Bruno Grusnick (1900-1992) who devoted a great part of his long life, right until he was 90, in rescuing Buxtehude's music from the obscurity of library shelves and performing them before finalising his performing edition.

The sequence is planned for contrast of forces and styles, with bubbling rhythmic elan predominating and as good a team of singers as you are likely to get together. Koopman keeps everyone on their toes throughout. It has all the vitality and joy in music-making that my colleagues have reported above, and is I suspect an ideal introduction to a composer who surely is entitled to rank high with the canonic masters of the period from Monteverdi through to Schutz (who was energetically championed in UK by Roger Norrington) and Bach, who is generally taken to be the greates of them all (JSB's cantatas were only given complete in England during my time,by Paul Steinitz, father of Richard, founder of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival...) How lucky are baroque music fans with today's plethora of great recordings of fine music which has only come to light again in recent decades...


Koopman's performances and recordings here have all the virtues of the others in the series, as rehearsed above by our SF & YC, and I hope that many readers will want to share our delights of discovery. Full details and track listing at http://www.challenge.nl/index.php?group=product&serial=1182852330


Peter Grahame Woolf