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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c1637 - 1707): "Dein edles Herz, der Liebe Thron"

Capella Angelica; Lautten Compagney
Dir: Wolfgang Katschner

rec: January 15 - 18, 2007, Halle/Saale, Franckesche Stiftungen (Freylinghausensaal)
Carus - 83.193 (© 2007) (75'01")

Befiehl dem Engel, daß er komm (BuxWV 10); Dein edles Herz, der Liebe Thron (BuxWV 14); Eins bitte ich vom Herrn (BuxWV 24); Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort (BuxWV 27); Jesu, meine Freude (BuxWV 60); Nun danket alle Gott (BuxWV 79); Wo soll ich fliehen hin (BuxWV 112)

[CA] Barbara Christina Steude, Birte Kulawik, Heidi Maria Taubert, Natalie Buck, soprano; Alexander Schneider, Matthias Lucht, alto; Henning Kaiser, Christoph Burmester, tenor; Matthias Vieweg, Matthias Lutze, bass; [LC] Andrea Theinert, Ulrike Witt, transverse flute; Friederike Otto, François Petit-Laurent, cornett; Ute Hartwich, Sebastian Kuhn, trumpet; Margret Baumgartl, Anne von Hoff, violin; Ulrike Paetz, Britta Gemmeker, viola; Ulrike Becker, viola da gamba, violone; Annette Rheinfurth, double bass, violone; Györgyi Farkasch, dulcian; Julian Behr, theorbo; Hans-Werner Apel, lute, theorbo; Mark Nordstrand, harpsichord, organ

The commemoration of Buxtehude's death in 1707 has resulted in a growing number of recordings of his sacred music. Among them the Membra Jesu nostri still takes first place, but fortunately other specimen of his religious music are increasingly paid attention to. This is the third disc by the Lautten Compagney. The other two discs were devoted to Membra Jesu nostri and to cantatas for soprano solo respectively.

The term cantata is often used in regard to Buxtehude's sacred compositions, but in the programme notes Erik Dremel states that this term was never used by Buxtehude. There are two kinds of sacred works, which are reflected by the terms used for them. One the one hand there are the motet (Motette) and the concerto (Concert), which are based on texts from the Bible or chorales from the Lutheran tradition, on the other hand the aria (Aria) and song (Lied), which have free poetic texts. The latter are often of a very personal character, and are an expression of the growing influence of Pietism in Germany. The Membra Jesu nostri also falls into this category. One of the features of Buxtehude's sacred works is the fact that both genres are intertwined: in most cantatas texts of both kinds are used.

The disc begins with a setting of the well-known text Nun danket alle Gott. Here Buxtehude doesn't use the hymn (written by Martin Rinckart), but the text from the apocryphical book Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) on which it is based. Here the word "Friede" (peace) ("und verleihe immerdar Friede" - and confer lasting peace) is repeated a number of times.

A combination of Concert and Aria is the next piece, Wo soll ich fliehen hin. In the so-called Lübecker Tabulatur in which it is preserved it is called a Dialogus. It is a dialogue between Jesus and the soul. After a Sinfonia the dialogue between the soul and Jesus takes place. The soul uses stanzas from two chorales: 'Wo soll ich fliehen hin' (Johann Heermann, 1630) and 'Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut' (Bartholomäus Ringwaldt, 1588), whereas Jesus uses words from the Bible. In the centre is an aria of three stanzas, sung by a solo voice, and preceded by an instrumental adagio. I don't know for what voice the aria is set: I assume it is a soprano, but here it is sung by a tenor - or rather two tenors: one sings the first stanza, the other the second, and both sing the third stanza unisono. This is a very strange decision, the reason for which escapes me.

The third piece on the programme, Befiehl dem Engel, daß er komm, is again based on a chorale. Buxtehude here uses the last two stanzas of the evening hymn 'Christe, der du bist der helle Tag', a translation by Martin Luther of the medieval hymn 'Christe, qui lux es et dies'. But Buxtehude only uses the text, not the chorale melody.

Then follows the 'cantata' which has given this disc its title: Dein edles Herz, der Liebe Thron. It is an interesting piece, which shows some parallels with the Membra Jesu nostri. The famous poet Johann Rist (1607 - 1667) published a book with songs and meditations on the Passion of Christ in 1649. This book contains some stanzas from the Rhytmica oratio of Arnulf de Louvain, which is also the source of the text of Membra Jesu nostri. Like that work this cantata consists of seven sections, and as in Membra Jesu nostri the sixth cantata, 'Ad cor' (To the heart), is singled out by means of a different instrumentation, here Buxtehude emphasises the fifth section by means of a basso continuo part which is different from that in all other sections. In it the soul asks Jesus "never (...) to separate your heart from mine". Both works are strongly expressing the spirit of Pietism.

Jesu, meine Freude is based on one of the most famous and most beloved chorales of the Lutheran tradition, written by Johann Franck. The cantata begins with an overture in three sections (fast - slow - fast) and then all stanzas are sung. In most of them the melody by Johann Crüger (1653) is used in different ways - the fifth departs the farthest from Crüger's melody.

Two chorales are used in Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort, both by Martin Luther: 'Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort' - the first three sections - and, after a ritornello, 'Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich' - the last two sections. (Actually these two chorales, although with a different melody, belong together. Originally the chorale 'Erhalt uns Herr' had three stanzas, written by Luther, but his fellow reformer Justus Jonas (1493-1546) added two stanzas on the same melody. Later on two other stanzas were added, again written by Luther, but with a different melody. These are the two used in the last two sections of this cantata by Buxtehude. In this extended form the chorale was still sung in Leipzig in Bach's time.)

The programme ends with another large-scale cantata for five voices, 2 transverse flutes, 2 violins, 2 violas, bassoon, violone and bc: Eins bitte ich vom Herrn. This work is dominated by an aria: the seven stanzas of 'Liebster Herr Jesu, wo bleibst du so lange', a text by Christian Weselovius which also was harmonised by Bach and was included in Schemellis Gesangbuch. It is about the soul longing for the second coming of Christ, which puts an end to all the misery of earthly life. Every stanza ends with the line "Lord Jesus, where do you tarry so long? Come now, for I am growing very fearful here on earth", except the last stanza, which says "Come now, oh come now, my only desire, fairest bridegroom, let me embrace you". The aria is embraced by a concerto: 'Eins bitte ich vom Herrn' (Psalm 24, 4).

This disc presents an interesting and various programme of sacred music in the different forms Buxtehude made use of. Most of these pieces have a modest scoring of voices with strings (mostly with additional bassoon) and bc. The last cantata has two additional transverse flutes, the first item (Nun danket alle Gott) two trumpets and two cornetts. Some of the compositions on this disc have been recorded here for the first time: BuxWV 14, 27 and 112. Therefore it is a pity the performances are not really satisfying.

The first problem is the acoustics, which seem a little too dry. As Erik Dremel writes in the booklet, the composition of sacred vocal music wasn't one of Buxtehude's duties as an organist of the Marienkirche in Lübeck. Therefore it is very likely they were intended to be performed as part of the Abendmusiken. But those took place in the Marienkirche as well, and the acoustical circumstances were quite different from those in this recording. This influences the result in a negative way. I am also surprised by the low pitch of a=440', whereas there is agreement that in Buxtehude's time the pitch in church music was a=466'. As a result some solo passages for the alto are too low and audibly pretty uncomfortable. In Wo soll ich fleihen hin Matthias Vieweg has problems with the lowest notes of his part.

Some strange choices have been made in regard to the vocal scoring. I have already mentioned the puzzling decisions in this respect in Wo soll ich fliehen hin. Jesu meine Freude is scored for three voices: two sopranos and bass. Here the ripieni are performed by the 'choir', which is rather strange: a scoring like this points into the direction of a performance with one voice per part. Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort contains two stanzas for one voice, which are sung here unisono by the sopranos and the male voices respectively - another highly debatable decision.

This could be accepted if otherwise these performances had been expressive and enthralling, but they are not. In particular the singing is rather flat and bland. There is little declamation in the solo sections, and most of the singers seem not to be able to communicate the content of the texts. For instance, very little is done with a highly expressive line like "in rechter Demut fleh ich sehr" (in proper humility I do beseech you) from Dein edles Herz, der Liebe Thron. And there are many other moments where the singing doesn't go under the surface. It is strange that in the tutti sections there is no hint at any vibrato, but as soon as they sing solo some sopranos start to use quite a bit of it. Too much legato singing and too little dynamic contrast adds to the lack of expression which characterises this recording. It is just the fact that a number of pieces are hardly known which could make me recommend this disc. But then, Ton Koopman is going to record all cantatas, so perhaps one is well-advised to wait and hear if his interpretations of these particular works are any better.

Johan van Veen (© 2007)

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