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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637 - 1707): "In dulci jubilo"

Vocalensemble Rastatt; Les Favorites
Dir: Holger Speck
rec: Oct 26 - 30, 2003, Karlsruhe, Altkatholische Auferstehungskirche
Carus - 83.156 (59'51")

Cantate Domino (BuxWV 12); Das neugeborne Kindelein (BuxWV 13); Heut triumphieret Gottes Sohn (BuxWV 43): Alleluja; Ihr lieben Christen, freut euch nun (BuxWV 51); In dulci jubilo (BuxWV 52); Kommst du, Licht der Heiden (BuxWV 66); Magnificat (BuxWV Anh 1); Wie soll ich dich empfangen (BuxWV 109)

Dietrich Buxtehude (1637 - 1707), generally considered one of the main representatives of the North-German school of the late 17th century - although of Danish origin -, is mostly known for his organ music. But he also left a large corpus of sacred music, written either for the church or to be performed in private circles among the aristocracy in Lübeck, the city where Buxtehude worked as organist in the Marienkirche. This disc brings cantatas associated with Advent and Christmas.

In his cantatas Buxtehude uses both Latin and German texts. The pieces on Latin texts will have been used mainly in private circles, for instance Cantate Domino recorded here, which is also reflected by the modest scoring for 3 voices and basso continuo. The cantata In dulci jubilo also contains some Latin lines, but that is the result of the fact that this traditional hymn which dates from pre-Reformation times, but was sung in church after the Reformation, is a mixture of German and Latin. And there is the Magnificat, of course, but this is generally considered not been written by Buxtehude.

Buxtehude's cantatas are characteristic for their variety in lyrics, structure and scoring. Buxtehude has set texts from the Bible - for example Cantate Domino - and sacred poetry, like Kommst du, Licht der Heiden. He also uses texts which have been in use in church as hymns, like In dulci jubilo and Wie soll ich dich empfangen. The latter is a poem by one of the most important Lutheran poets, Paul Gerhardt. In this case Buxtehude ignores the melody on which his poem was usually sung. Sometimes Buxtehude uses a compilation of biblical passages and sacred poetry, like in Ihr lieben Christen, freut euch nun.

There is variety in the way Buxtehude has set the texts to music as well. The scoring varies from very modest - three voices with basso continuo (Cantate Domino) - to sumptuous, with strings, trumpets, cornetts and sackbuts (Ihr lieben Christen, freut euch nun). There are no extensive passages for solo voices - as in most sacred music of the 17th century these cantatas are split up in short sections for soli and tutti. The question is how large the forces were with which Buxtehude - or those for whom he composed his cantatas - have performed his sacred music. I think it is safe to say that the music written for private use was performed with one voice per part. It is a little strange that in all cantatas on this disc at least some passages are performed with a choir. That is particularly odd in those cantatas scored for less than four voices - for instance 2 sopranos and bass (Kommst du, Licht der Heiden) or soprano, alto and bass (In dulci jubilo). The usually very modest instrumental scoring - for example two violins, sometimes with an additional bassoon - also suggests a one-voice-per-part performance, as does the way Buxtehude has written these cantatas. Only in Ihr lieben Christen, with its large instrumental forces, a performance with a choir seems to be justified. Another oddity is the last piece on the programme, the closing section of the Easter cantata Heut triumphieret Gottes Sohn. It seems to me rather strange to cut a section from a cantata to use it as music for a feast for which it wasn't written. And why? Wasn't there any other music for Christmas which could be chosen? The same can be said about the Magnificat, which is - according to musicological research - not by Buxtehude.

The Vocalensemble Rastatt is an excellent ensemble which contains very good voices. The members of the ensemble also perform the solo passages. They do that adequately, and sometimes even better than that, but I don't think the performances by both choir and solo singers do Buxtehude's cantatas real justice. There is a general lack in contrast, for example in regard to dynamics, and not enough declamation of the text. There is just more in these cantatas than this disc reveals. It is disappointing to conclude that Buxtehude's cantatas are still underrated, and that this recording doesn't change that.

Johan van Veen (© 2005)

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