musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637 - 1707): Sacred Works

Göteborg Baroque
Dir: Magnus Kjellson

rec: Nov 1 - 3 & 6 - 8, 2006, Göteborg, Örgryte nya kyrka
Footprint Records - FRCD 033 (© 2007) (58'28")

Alles, was ihr tut (BuxWV 4); An filius non est Dei (BuxWV 6); Benedicam Dominum (BuxWV 113); Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab (BuxWV 38); Ich bin die Auferstehung und das Leben (BuxWV 44); Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott (BuxWV 78)

Anna Jobrant Dalnäs, Ann Kjellson, Lotta Hultmark, soprano; Amanda Flodin, contralto; Tobias Nilsson, alto; Carl Johan Lillieroth, Martin Thörnqvist, tenor; Jan H. Börjesson, Gustav Eriksson, bass; Andreas Bengtsson, Ulrik Höglund, Erik Mattisson, Pierre Torwald, natural trumpet; William Dongois, Fiona Russell, cornett; Ole-Kristian Andersen, Daniel Stighäll, Jens Kristian Sogaard, sackbut; Per Buhre, Fredrik From, violin; Susanne Brunström, Johan Tufvesson, viola; Nora Boll, viola da gamba; Anders Engström, dulcian; Mattias Frostensson, violone; Anders Ericson, theorbo, guitar; Andreas Edlund, organ

The commemoration of the death of Dietrich Buxtehude in 2007 has resulted in a respectable number of new recordings of his works. Fortunately much attention has been paid to his vocal works, a category which is still relatively little-known and was not really explored during the commemoration of his birth in 1987. Considering the fact that so many recordings of Buxtehude's sacred music have been released in or around 2007 it is a bit of a shame that this disc contains six works most of which belong to the best-known. An opportunity to bring some of the lesser-known compositions to people's attention has been missed. Having said that I must say that the programme of this disc is attractive as all pieces are first-rate. And the differences in content and form guarantee a maximum of variety.

The first item is without any doubt Buxtehude's most spectacular piece. Benedicam Dominum is a motet in 24 parts, divided over six choirs. His predecessor, Franz Tunder, had the disposal of four small balconies in the Marienkirche in Lübeck, but when Buxtehude was appointed as his successor, he managed to find sponsors for the building of two additional, larger balconies in the church. He surely has used them in this motet. Two of the choirs are vocal: one consists of soloists, the second is a cappella which joins the soloists to single out certain passages. The performance is very impressive, not only because of the level of singing and playing, but also because here - like in the other pieces - a large organ is used in the basso continuo.

Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott is introduced by an instrumental Sinfonia. This concerto is based on a hymn which has been written by Martin Moller in 1584. It reflects the hardship of his time: "Take from us, Lord, thou true God, the heavy punishment and great chastisement, wich we have so deserved for our innumerable sins. Protect us in times of war and famine, of plague, fire and great sorrow". The chorale melody is present in every section, but strongly altered; the last stanza is most close to the original. Here the vocal lines are prepared by the strings. Buxtehude effectively uses harmony to depict the penitential character of this hymn. The dissonances are enhanced by the use of mean-tone temperament. The piece ends with a lively polyphonic setting of "Amen". The last line of the second stanza is set to staccato chords, impressively performed by the ensemble. The words "List und Mord" (wiles and murderous assaults) are given a maximum of expression.

Ich bin die Auferstehung is written for bass solo with an ensemble of strings, cornetts and trombones with bc. It is a piece for Easter in which the joy is reflected by lively rhythms, which are suddenly interrupted by a passage in slow speed on the words "der wird leben, ob er gleich stürbe" (though he may die, he shall live). Jan H. Börjesson sings it rather well, although sometimes his singing is a bit unpolished.

Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab is another composition for a solo voice, this time a soprano, with just two violins and bc. We find some good examples of text expression here, in particular the steep ascending figure on "so frag ich nichts nach Himmel". Anna Jobrant Dalnäs gives a very fine performance of this piece.

An filius non est Dei is written on a text of a pietistic nature, and in content comes close to the famous cycle Membra Jesu nostri. This is what the fourth stanza says: "O noble wound, o sweetest vein! Let me kiss thee and mend wounded hearts for ever". It is written for three voices - alto, tenor and bass - with three low instruments, either viole da gamba or trombones. Here the latter option has been chosen, and the trombones are played very well, but the articulation could have been better. The soloists leave nothing to be desired here.

The last work, Alles was ihr tut, is probably the best-known and most popular of all Buxtehude's sacred works, often performed by amateur choirs. It is an example of the so-called concerto-aria-cantata which combines biblical text, free poetry and a chorale. It is getting a wonderfully expressive performance in which Göteborg Baroque shows its strength as an ensemble and the capabilities of its members as soloists.

This disc may contain only some of the better-known compositions by Buxtehude, it makes up in the quality of the performances what it lacks in originality of programming. Even those who already have a number of discs with sacred music by Buxtehude in their collection should look for this recording.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

Relevant links:

Göteborg Baroque

CD Reviews