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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c1637 - 1707): "O Gottes Stadt, o güldnes Licht"

Barbara Christina Steude, sopranoa
Lautten Compagney
Dir: Wolfgang Katschner

rec: October 9 - 12, 2006, Berlin, Produktionsstätte Gärtnerstrasse (Deutschlandradio Kultur)
Carus - 83.192 (© 2007) (66'09")

Also hat Gott die Welt geliebet (BuxWV 5)a; Contrapunctus I & II über Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin (BuxWV 76); Entreisst euch, meine Sinnen (BuxWV 25)a; Herr, auf dich traue ich (BuxWV 35)a; Lauda anima mea Dominum (BuxWV 67)a; O clemens, o mitis, o coelestis Pater (BuxWV 82)a; O Gottes Stadt, o güldnes Licht (BuxWV 87)a; Schönster Jesu, liebstes Leben (BuxWV 8)a; Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (BuxWV 98)a; Was mich auf dieser Welt betrübt (BuxWV 105)a;

Birgit Schnurpfeil, Anne von Hoff, violin; Ulrike Paetz, viola; Ulrike Becker, viola da gamba, violone; Annette Reinfurth, double bass; Hans-Werner Apel, theorbo, guitar; Wolfgang Katschner, theorbo; Christine Tschirge, harpsichord, organ

Considering the number of recordings with vocal music by Buxtehude his compositions for solo voice and instruments hasn't been paid that much attention to. But he has written a respectable number of such works, which are not only of splendid quality, but also interesting as they often reflect the spirit of German Pietism. No less than four pieces on this disc belong to this category. They are mostly written in the form of strophic arias which are divided by instrumental ritornelli.

The disc opens with a setting of verses from Psalm 146, Lauda anima mea Dominum. As usual in Psalm settings in the German baroque the composer has translated the verses one by one into music, which often leads to strong contrasts in accordance with the content of the Psalm. Certain elements in the text are highlighted, in this case the first word "lauda", which is set like a fanfare. Both this and the declamatory character of other sections in this piece don't come out very well here.

Herr, auf dich traue ich is a so-called concerto-aria-cantata: verses from Psalm 31 embrace a strophic aria whose content is strongly personal in character and here we meet the spirit of Pietism. In the arias the voice is supported by basso continuo only, here played on theorbo and guitar. The use of a guitar is very debatable: I find it very hard to conceive a guitar was used in religious music in Lübeck in Buxtehude's time. There is little text expression from the soprano - as in most other pieces on this disc, unfortunately.

The next piece is O clemens, o mitis, o coelestis Pater. The text is free poetry which is based on the parable of the prodigal son from Luke 15 and verses from Psalms. The addition Motetta sub communione proves that is was written for liturgical performance, whereas most 'cantatas' were probably written for performance during the Abendmusiken which took place in Lübeck on Sunday afternoons in the weeks of Advent. The use of Latin was common in the Lutheran liturgy, as Bach's settings of Mass sections and the Magnificat prove.

The disc contains three 'arias', which belong to the category of the Lied-Kantate. These most strongly express the spirit of Pietism. Entreißt euch, meine Sinnen and Was mich auf dieser Welt betrübt are on texts by the Pietistic poet Ahasverus Fritsch (1670, 2nd edition 1679). The former contains striking modulations on the second part of the last line of every stanza. The longing for heaven and the bond with Jesus are presented as the means to take distance from the vanity of earthly life. The love for Jesus is strongly expressed in Schönster Jesu, liebstes Leben. O Gottes Stadt, o güldnes Licht also has a strongly mystical character: the city is Jerusalem, but not the earthly, but the Jerusalem in heaven. The text was written by Johann Rist, Buxtehude's favourite poet. It was part of the collection Himmlische Lieder (Heavenly songs) which is a clear indication of their character. The first stanza says: "O God's city, o golden light, o splendour without end, when shall I see your countenance, when shall I kiss your hands?"

The two last pieces are on Biblical texts. Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied is a setting of the first four verses of Psalm 98. Also hat Gott die Welt geliebet sets the well-known verse 16 from John 3: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son". The former piece is characterised by frequent imitation between the soprano and the violin. The word "singet" is used for long coloraturas. In the latter piece the verse from John is surrounded by a sonata for two violins and bc. It closes with an 'Alleluja'. The cantata contains an obbligato part for the viola da gamba.

As I already have indicated I find the performances disappointing. The voice of Barbara Christina Steude is not very interesting and a bit colourless. There is too little text expression and in particular the more emotional pieces, like the 'arias' which are written in the spirit of Pietism, are too flat and rather superficial. I also find the continuous vibrato - although it isn't very wide - annoying. The Italian pronunciation of the Latin texts is historically unjustified.

The instrumental ensemble is technically good, but generally just as bland as Ms Steude. It didn't take long before I started to get bored, as the compositions on this disc, despite their different character, sounded more or less the same. It is a shame an interesting programme like this doesn't get a better performance.

Johan van Veen (© 2007)

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