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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637 - 1707): "In te Domine speravi - Cantatas and Motets"

Dir: Erik Van Nevel

rec: Nov 2006, Louvain, Heverlee
Accent - ACC 24184 (© 2007) (58'30")

Cantate Domino (BuxWV 12); Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr (BuxWV 41); In te Domine speravi (BuxWV 53); Jesu meine Freude (BuxWV 60); Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott (BuxWV 78)

Amaryllis Dieltiens, Sarah Van Mol, Marina Smolders, Nel Van Hee, soprano; Hugo Naessens, alto; Gemma Jansen, contralto; Patrick Debrabandere, Lode Somers, tenor; Erik Van Nevel, baritone; Walter Van Der Ven, Paul Mertens, bass; Mimi Mitchell, Heidi Erbrich, violin; Piet Stryckers, Dirk Moelants, viola da gamba; Hendrik-Jan Wolfert, violone; Bart Naessens, organ

Sometimes there is reason to doubt the sense of a commemoration year. Some composers are so well known that it is rather superfluous to specifically pay attention to them, just because they wer born or died 200 or 300 years ago. But in case of Buxtehude it makes sense: his organ works are part of the standard repertoire of organists, and his chamber music have been discovered by instrumental ensembles and are regularly played. But his music for harpsichord and his vocal works are still largely unknown to the public at large. The previous 'Buxtehude year' 1988 resulted in a handful of recordings of cantatas. And in particular the cantata cycle Membra Jesu nostri has become one of the most popular pieces for Passiontide. But other specimen of Buxtehude's vocal music remain underexposed. In 2007 a number of recordings with vocal works have been released, but this disc is welcome, even though most pieces have been recorded before.

One of the positive aspects of this disc is that it delivers a good impression of the variety in composition techniques and styles Buxtehude has made use of. The disc opens with Cantate Domino, a motet in Italian style, containing long melismas and contrasting sections, on the first verses of Psalm 96. Next follows a so-called concerto, Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr, a setting of a chorale from the Lutheran tradition by Martin Schalling (1569) on a melody by an unknown composer. The third stanza, "Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein", was used by Bach as the closing chorale for his St John Passion. The strings weave a web around the chorale melody, like in an organ chorale. In the first stanza the chorale is sung unaltered by the soprano, in the second the setting is more or less free with thematic remiscences of the original melody. In the third stanza the melody returns, but then strongly ornamented. The strings play an important role in expressing the content of this chorale. In the first stanza descending figures, including Seufzer illustrate the lines 4 - 6 saying: "The whole world delights me not, I do not long for heaven or earth, if only I have Thee, Lord". Harmony and intervals are used as means of expression in the second stanza. And in the third long-held notes illustrate the word "ruhn (bis am jüngsten Tage)" (rests in peace [until the Last Judgement]).

In te Domine speravi is another motet, based on verses from Psalms 31 and 71, a polyphonic piece with a lively rhythm for three voices (SAB) with basso continuo. Then another concerto is performed, based on one of the most popular hymns in Lutheran Germany, Jesu, meine Freude. The structure of this piece shows strong similarity to Bach's motet on the same hymn, suggesting that Bach may have known Buxtehude's setting (in contrast to Bach Buxtehude doesn't use additional free poetry here). In the first and last stanzas the melody is largely unaltered, but in the other stanzas the music moves away from the original melody. The baroque habit of singling out specific key words by repeating them is present at the end of the first stanza: "nichts sonst liebers werden" (no-one [on earth] is dearer [to me]). Lively figures illustrate "Tobe Welt und springe" (rage, o world and quake).

Like Jesu, meine Freude, the last piece, Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott is introduced by an instrumental Sinfonia. This concerto is based on a hymn which has been written by Martin Moller in 1584. It reflects the hardship of his time: "Take from us, Lord, thou true God, the heavy punishment and great chastisement, wich we have so deserved for our innumerable sins. Protect us in times of war and famine, of plague, fire and great sorrow". The chorale melody is present in every section, but strongly altered; the last stanza is most close to the original. Here the vocal lines are prepared by the strings. Buxtehude effectively uses harmony to depict the penitential character of this hymn. The piece ends with a lively polyphonic setting of "Amen".

Currende is a vocal and instrumental ensemble from Belgium, which over the years has made a large number of recordings with renaissance and baroque music. I haven't heard them all, but those I have heard are mostly very good. That is also the case here. One of the features of the ensemble is the clarity of sound, which is not spoilt by vibrato, and a clear delivery of the text. The singers of the ensemble are also able to perform solo parts, as they are doing here. As a result there is a strong unity between soli and tutti. In addition the instrumentalists impressively realise the expression of the string parts. Both the more joyful and the rather dark-coloured works are performed very convincingly here.

Of course, one could question the number of performers. It is well known that Buxtehude was able to make use of a pretty large number of singers and players, but how many, and when and in which compositions he decided to do so is anybody's guess. So it is difficult to decide what is right or wrong here. As the last piece on this disc, Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott is divided in two parts, which suggests a performance during the liturgy (the two parts being performed before and after the sermon respectively), one could argue that this is most probably performed with rather limited forces. Most questionable is the decision to perform In te Domine speravi with the full ensemble rather than with three soloists. I think basically every piece set for less than four voices should always be performed with just solo voices. Even Ton Koopman, not exactly a promotor of 'one-voice-per-part' performances, chooses to score this piece with soloists. Also the Italian pronunciation of the Latin texts is rather odd.

But it doesn't hold me back from recommending this disc which gives a good impression of the brilliant quality of Buxtehude's vocal oeuvre. The editing of the booklet leaves something to be desired. There are several printing errors in the lyrics and the reference to the tracks in which the members of the choir sing a solo part is partly wrong.

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

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