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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c1637 - 1707): "Une alchimie musicale"

RaphaŽle Kennedy, sopranoa
Da Pacem
Dir: RaphaŽle Kennedy, Pierre-Adrien Charpy

rec: Sept 13 - 15, 2010, Fontmorigny (Cher), Abbaye
K617 - K617227 (© 2011) (70'16")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Ciaccona in e minor (BuxWV 160)cdef; Fallax mundus (BuxWV 28); Klage Lied (BuxWV 76,2)abcf; O clemens, o mitis (BuxWV 82); O dulcis Jesu (BuxWV 83); O Gottes Stadt (BuxWV 87); Passacaglia in d minor (BuxWV 161)cdef; Praeludium in g minor (BuxWV 163)f; Sonata in C (BuxWV 266)bcdef

Virginie Descharmes, Stťphanie Paulet, violinb; Sylvie Moquet, viola da gambac; Marc Wolff, theorbod; Yannick Varlet, harpsichorde; Pierre-Adrien Charpy, organf

The commemoration of the death of Dietrich Buxtehude in 2007 has had a lasting influence on the early music scene. In contrast to the previous Buxtehude year 1987 it has resulted in a large number of recordings which included pieces never recorded before. A recording project which includes his complete oeuvre, by Ton Koopman, is not finished yet, and this explains that now and then a disc is released which contains a premiere recording. That is the case here with the cantata Fallax mundus.

Discs like this have appeared and will appear: a mixture of vocal and instrumental pieces. And keyboard works being performed with an instrumental ensemble isn't new either. But this disc is special in the way the music is presented. In the liner-notes Pierre-Adrien Charpy writes that the music of Buxtehude - and of other composers, for that matter - "embodies a magisterial cohabitation of two different and complementary conceptions of music which have coexisted from the Middle Ages right down to our own day. The first of these, in the Pythagorean tradition which regards all music as an art of numbers, has led to a formal elaboration based on mathematical relationships. The second, regarding music as a discourse, has developed an analogy between musical discourse and that of literature, which serves as its model."

He then explains how the latter principle is reflected in the way a composition is written, using the cantata O Gottes Stadt as an example. He identifies five parts: exordium, propositio, refutatio, confirmatio and peroratio. This sequence is then also used as the guiding principle in the compilation of the programme. The five cantatas represent the parts mentioned above, and "this is expanded to include four instrumental pieces which may be seen as digressions from or commentaries on the principle subject. (...) Moreover, we have organised the nine pieces in a mirror design: in addition to the alternation of vocal and instrumental pieces and the mirror of the tonalities, the two compositions on an ostinato bass (Ciacona and Passacaglia) appear in second and penultimate position, while the other two instrumental pieces representative of the stylus phantasticus (Praeludium and Sonata) frame the central refutatio."

There can be no doubt that rhetorics was the guiding principle of composers in the baroque era. Much has been written about it, and the awareness of this principle has also had its effects on the performance practice. The other concept, which concerns the use of numbers and their function to structure a composition is much more speculative and therefore a matter of debate. There can be little doubt that numerology played a role in the compositional process, but exactly in what way is not always easy to tell. And how far one should go in trying to identify numbers as a compositional principle is very much a matter of discussion. This has been often debated in regards to some large-scale works by Bach, for instance. Charpy takes Buxtehude's Passacaglia as an example, explaining how various numbers are used because of their symbolic meaning. He could be right, but this very subject is bound to remain a matter of speculation. It is probably this aspect which justifies the reference to alchemy in the title of this disc. On the other hand, I rather consider this title a little unlucky as numerology hasn't that much to do with alchemy, and rhetorics even less so.

All these considerations aside, this is a very fine disc. The conception of rhetorics certainly helps to understand the way the various pieces are constructed, not only in the contrast of tempi and rhythms, but also in the role of the voice and the instruments. RaphaŽle Kennedy has a perfect voice for this repertoire. Her delivery is very good and so is her pronunciation. Only now and then I noted some minor flaws in this respect. The Latin texts are pronounced the German way, which is certainly right. The playing of the strings is very good, but I could imagine a little stronger dynamic shading, in particular in the Sonata in C. Notable is the way the Klage Lied is sung, unfortunately only two stanzas. As the four parts are of equal importance Ms Kennedy takes her volume down, and this results in this work sounding like a true ensemble piece. The Ciaccona in e minor and the Passacaglia in d minor are performed instrumentally. In the former this works better than in the latter, especially in the opening episode.

All in all, this is an interesting and musically compelling addition to the growing Buxtehude discography.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

RaphaŽle Kennedy & Da Pacem
Pierre-Adrien Charpy


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