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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637 - 1707): "Scandinavian Cantatas"

Theatre of Voices; The TOV Band; Bine Bryndorf, organ (solog)
Dir: Paul Hillier

rec: Feb 11 - 14, 2010, Helsingør, Sct. Mariae Kirke
Dacapo - 6.220534 (© 2010) (59'04")

Accedite gentes (BuxWV 1) (attr)abcef; Att du Jesu vill mig höra (BuxWV 8)a; Domine salvum fac regem (BuxWV 18)abcdef; Ecce nunc benedicite Domino (BuxWV 23)cdef; Herren vår Gud (BuxWV 40)bcef; Missa alla brevis (BuxWV 114)abcdf; Pange lingua gloriosi (BuxWV 91)abcf; Passacaglia in d minor (BuxWV 161)g; Praeludium in e minor (BuxWV 142)g

[TOV] Else Torpa, Bente Vistb, soprano; William Purefroy, altoc; Adam Riisd, Johan Linderothe, tenor; Jakob Bloch Jespersen, bassf
[TOV Band] Peter Spissky, Jesenka Balic Zunic, violin; Rastko Roknic, Joel Sundin, viola; Fredrik Bock, theorbo; Lars Baunkilde, violone

The commemoration of Buxtehude's death in 2007 resulted in widespread interest in his vocal works. Buxtehude left more than 120 such pieces, which is remarkable considering that as organist of St Mary's in Lübeck he was not responsible for the vocal music for the liturgy. Some of his sacred music may have been performed during the services on Sundays and feastdays, but most of it was probably intended for performance during public concerts, in particular the famous Abendmusiken.

His vocal works are written on texts in four different languages: German, Latin, Swedish and Italian. The largest proportion has a German text, but the number of pieces on a Latin text is considerable. This is not as odd as one may think. When Martin Luther reformed the liturgy he stressed the importance of the use of texts in the vernacular, but he never wanted to abolish Latin altogether. It seems there was a preference for liturgical music in Latin in St Mary's in Lübeck. An inventory of the printed music in the possession of the church shows that a large portion set Latin texts.

This disc is devoted to music on Latin and Swedish texts. Pange lingua gloriosi is the setting of a text attributed to Thomas of Aquinas and written for the feast of Corpus Christi. This isn't celebrated in the Lutheran church, and it is suggested it could have been performed during the distribution of the communion at any time of the ecclesiastical year. It is one of those pieces in which Buxtehude merges the forms of concerto and aria. The text is strophic, but the music is through-composed. Ecce nunc benedicite is a setting of Psalm 134 (133), one of the pilgrim's Psalms, which has only three verses. It is scored for lower voices: alto, two tenors and bass, and is divided in four sections: the first verse is split into two episodes. All begin with a solo which is then extended to a four-part texture. This creates a kind of crescendo which reflects the text of this psalm in which the pilgrims urge each other to bless the Lord.

Buxtehude scholar Kerala J. Snyder states in the liner notes that Domine salvum fac regem (O Lord, save the king) is more likely to have been written for use in the kingdom of Sweden - by Buxtehude's friend Gustav Düben who was Kapellmeister at the court in Stockholm - than in Lübeck, which was an free imperial city and ruled by a council. The character of this piece with its emphasis on the tutti supports this view. Accedite gentes is attributed to Buxtehude, but its authenticity is highly unlikely. The text is an anonymous paraphrase of selected verses from the Book of Psalms. It is written in a quite dramatic style, and at several moments reminded me of the oratorios of Giacomo Carissimi, for instance the way the word "pereant" (perish) is set. Voices and instruments are more integrated in this piece than usual in Buxtehude's vocal works in which the instruments mostly play the ritornellos.

A remarkable composition is the Missa alla brevis whose authenticity has been doubted as well, but which seems to be from Buxtehude's pen after all. It is written in the stile antico, the old style of the renaissance which was still held in high esteem in the 17th century. The title refers to the longer note values and the tactus on the brevis, but also to the fact that it is a missa brevis, consisting of Kyrie and Gloria only. It is scored for five voices with basso continuo.

Buxtehude has written two pieces on Swedish texts, which have both been recorded here. Herren vår Gud is a four-part chorale setting and was probably commissioned by Gustav Düben. The text is a poetic paraphrase of Psalm 20; Buxtehude has set the first and last stanzas with the melody from a Swedish hymnal from 1697. The instruments play interjections between the phrases. Att du Jesu vill mig höra is the only piece on this disc which is not preserved in the Düben Collection, but has been found in the collection of Henrich Christoffer Engelhardt, who was organist in various Swedish cities in the early 18th century. It is an aria for solo voice and basso continuo, with the instruments playing a sinfonia and ritornellos. It is a prayer for forgiveness which explains its mournful character.

The programme is rounded off with two organ works. The Prelude in e minor is a typical specimen of the stylus phantasticus, and consists of an improvisatory opening section which is followed by two fugues. Then after another short episode in free style the piece concludes with another fugue. The Passacaglia in d minor is one of Buxtehude's most famous organ pieces. Buxtehude was one of the first in Germany to write organ music based on an ostinato bass pattern.

Bine Bryndorf plays these two pieces well, but I would have liked a more dramatic treatment of the second fugue of the Prelude in e minor. The various episodes of the Passacaglia could have been more differentiated. It is praiseworthy that she also plays the basso continuo at the large organ of St Mary's in Helsingør. I have noticed this practice in several recent recordings of music by Buxtehude and his contemporaries. This is a most satisfying development, as it is much more in line with the performances in Buxtehude's time than the use of a small positive. It also makes the basso continuo more present.

The singers give generally good performances, and they have a good command of this repertoire. I am particularly impressed by the singing of the two tenors Adam Riis and Johan Linderoth and the bass Jakob Bloch Jespersen. But I am less satisfied with the two sopranos Else Torp and Bente Vist and the alto William Purefroy who use too much vibrato. It is rather curious that in the Missa alla brevis they do without it. So why not in the other pieces as well? That would have made this disc even more enjoyable than it is. Also hard to understand is the Italian pronunciation of the Latin texts.

These critical remarks shouldn't dissuade you from purchasing this disc. The music is wonderful, and the performances are good enough to reveal the quality of this music. The booklet contains liner notes by the internationally renowned Buxtehude scholar Kerala J. Snyder as well as the lyrics, all of them in English, German and Danish.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Theatre of Voices

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