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Buxtehude: "Vocal Music Vol. II"

Johan Reuter, bass
Københavns Drengekor (Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir); The Dufay Collective
Dir: Ebbe Munk
rec: June 12 - 14, 2000, Ishøj, Vejleå Kirke
Dacapo - 8.224160 (50'59")

Buxtehude: Alles, was ihr tut (BuxWV 4); Das neugeborne Kindelein (BuxWV 13); Der Herr ist mit mir (BuxWV 15); Fürwahr, er trug unsere Krankheit (BuxWV 31); anon: Magnificat anima mea (BuxWV Anh 1)

Nicolette Moonen, Sharon Lindo, Naome Rogers (violin), Giles Lewin (viola, viola da gamba), Susanne Pell (viola da gamba), Richard Campbell (bass violin), Peter Skuce (organ)

The label Dacapo releases a series with the vocal music of Dietrich Buxtehude (c1637-1707). Volume I was devoted to solo cantatas, sung by Emma Kirkby. It has taken quite a while before Volume II was released. That has just happened, and this CD contains 4 cantatas with choir and instruments, as well as the Magnificat, which was considered to be Buxtehude's for some time, but is now generally accepted to be unauthentic. The composer is still unknown.

There are not many recordings of Buxtehude's vocal music, at least far less than CDs with his organ music. That is surprising, since every recording proves how good his vocal music is. This recording delivers that evidence again.

Of the four cantatas on this CD Alles, was ihr tut is certainly Buxtehude's most popular vocal work, which has been recorded many times before. As nice as it is, I think the other cantatas are more expressive and profounder. The best example is Fürwahr, er trug unsere Krankheit, certainly one of Buxtehude's most dramatic compositions. Der Herr ist mit mir is another fine work, a setting of the verses 6 and 7 from the 118th Psalm. It is characterised by the strong contrast between "Der Herr ist mit mir" (The Lord taketh my part) and "Was können mir Menschen tun?" (What can man do unto me?). The work is mainly homophonic, but ends with a ciacona consisting of 19 variations over an ostinato bass of two bars. Here Buxtehude gives strong evidence of his skills in counterpoint. Das neugeborne Kindelein is a totally different work for Christmas time, in the form of a through-composed sacred concerto. The Magnificat is part of the famous Düben-collection which contains so many interesting works by mostly German composers. It has been discovered that its origins are in Central Germany, which excludes Buxtehude as a possible composer. It doesn't make it less popular with choirs all over the world, though.

I am not totally satisfied with the performances on this CD. The bass Johan Reuter, who sings the solo parts in BuxWV 4 and 31, has a voice which is certainly suited to this kind of music, but I am not particularly fond of his somewhat harsh sound and his lack of flexibility. His singing is a little straightforward and could be more expressive. The recording of BuxWV 31 by Cantus Cölln is far better in that respect. In that cantata duet and trio passages are sung by members of the choir, and they are not always up to the job. On this CD some passages that are clearly intended to be sung by soloists, are performed here by more than one singer, for technical reasons, I guess. No doubt it is better than listening to one singer who is out of tune, but it is less than ideal, of course.

There is a lot to enjoy, though. The choir produces a beautiful sound, articulates well and the German pronunciation is very good. Especially Das neugeborne Kindelein and Der Herr ist mit mir are performed convincingly. The ciacona at the end of this last cantata gets the treatment it deserves and brings the work to an exciting end.

Like I said, the Magnificat is sung all over the world by mainly amateur choirs. It is nice to have it on this CD, sung by a good boys' choir like this one.

Considering the fact that Buxtehude has written much more vocal music, and this CD contains only 50 minutes of music, the producers could have been more generous. But let's enjoy what we have got.

Johan van Veen (© 2002)

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