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CD Review

Dieterich Buxtehude

Opera Omnia XX: Vocal Works 10

  • Walt Gott, mein Werk ich lasse, BuxWV 103
  • Du Lebensfürst, Herr Jesu Christ, BuxWV 22
  • Wie schmeckt es so lieblich und wohl, BuxWV 108
  • Auf, Saiten, auf! Lasst euren Schall erklingen!, BuxWV 115
  • O lux beata, trinitas, BuxWV 89
  • Nun freut euch, ihr Frommen, mit mir, BuxWV 80
  • Dixit Dominus Domino meo, BuxWV 17
  • Kommst du, Licht der Heiden, BuxWV 66
  • O Frühlicht Stunden, o herrliche Zeit, BuxWV 85
  • O Jesu mi dulcissime, BuxWV 88
  • Ecce nunc benedicite Domino, BuxWV 23
  • Jesu, meine Freude, meines Herzens Weide, BuxWV 60
  • O frühliche Stunden, o frühliche Zeit, BuxWV 84
  • Gestreute mit Blumen, BuxWV 118
  • Fallax mundus ornat vultus, BuxWV 28
  • Deh cedete il vostro vanto, BuxWV 117
  • Wo ist doch mein Freund geblieben?, BuxWV 111
  • Herr, auf dich traue ich, BuxWV 35
  • Der Herr ist mit mir, darum fürchte ich mich nicht, BuxWV 15
Amaryllis Dieltens, soprano
Miriam Feuersinger, soprano
Verena Gropper, soprano
Bettina Pahn, soprano
Gerlinde Sämann, soprano
Dorothee Wohlgemuth, soprano
Maarten Engltjes, alto
Tilman Lichdi, alto
Klaus Martens, tenor
Jap van der Linden, tenor
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir/Ton Koopman
Challenge CHR72259 2CDs 2:33:29
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There has been some confusion over how many volumes are in this landmark series from Challenge by Ton Koopman of all of Dieterich Buxtehude's extant works. Original inquiries suggested there'd be about two dozen CD sets. The documentation on Volume XVII (CC72256) referred to three more releases, although the next one to be released described the "end of a journey" as though the cycle were then complete; by Volume XIX, it seemed as though later/recent discoveries of works by Buxtehude could account for an "extension". While wording on the Challenge site is ambiguous. But Volume XX has just been released – Vocal Works 10 – and Koopman again suggests that the 30 CDs across these 20 sets now represent the complete collection. Indeed, the booklet that comes with the CD contains an index to the works released (by Challenge) over the past eight years, and there is now a boxed set of all 20 releases.

Whether there are to be any further CDs or not, this has been a remarkable journey and a highly satisfying series. It explores the vocal and instrumental works of Dieterich Buxtehude, the north German composer of the generation before Bach… he lived from 1637 to 1707. Although such works as the O lux beata, BuxWV 89 [CD.1 tr. 5] might suggest a certain austerity on first hearing, it's actually certainty, authority that they convey. Buxtehude's music balances formality with passion. Koopman and his musicians have achieved a great deal since 2006. Most significant may well be a respect for an assured balance between exploring the (probably necessarily) unfamiliar and treating it as… "established". This makes the music as enjoyable and of as enduring impact as possible. This final two-CD set is no exception. The vocal works here are engaging, striking and eminently approachable. They include mostly sacred pieces; though Auf, Saiten, auf!, BuxWV 115 [CD.1 tr.4] and Den cedete, BuxWV 117 [CD.2. tr.7] are secular wedding pieces. Most of these works come from the last 20 years of Buxtehude's life, in Lübeck. All the pieces presented here can be classified as "Concertos" (actually motets in concerto style, "Chorale elaborations" or "arias"/"aria cantatas".

Although the composer developed and experimented with the array of stylistic tools at his disposal in the late seventeenth century (the freedom afforded by the stylus phantasticus is a good example of forward-looking music), his was a world of certainties and a determination to use the confluence of established texts with music of great beauty and creativity in its service. Semi-rhetorical techniques (echo, repetition, embellishment, cross-reference, and even understatement) as well as a meticulous matching of textual nuance to instrumental refinement make this music in which you feel "at home"; this works well. Yet the performances are original and fresh.

Achieving this blend with neither limelight nor overt shadow is one of Koopman's greatest successes throughout the series. And never more so than here. Listen to the careful yet affecting articulation and unostentatious blending of words, strings and organ in Der Herr ist mit mir, BuxWV 15 [CD.1 tr.7] – a message of comfort, and the reasons for taking comfort and feeling comforted if ever there was one. The delivery and expressivity of the soloists are so winning, convincing, throughout the over two-and-a-half hours of these two CDs that neither they nor The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir see a need to be demonstrative; still less even marginally fastidious. When plain involvement in the melodies and textures which Buxtehude wrote are all that's needed. There is projection without declamation.

For as much as there is clarity and precision in the playing and singing, there is also suaveness, sophistication and good sense – quite without exaggeration. It's true that the tentativeness of early sets in this cycle has been replaced by a spring in the collective step of these musicians. But at the same time, they respect and honor the depth of Buxtehude's musical and textual thinking. The end result is always what counts; but Koopman and his musicians quietly convey how they arrived at these documents to the composer's greatness by the sensitivity and reticence in their delivery.

Although this is the last collection of some 20 works, it's in no sense a gathering up of the remaining "dregs". There is variety in these works and the sequence in which they are presented. Largely sacred, they are exultatory, reassuring, devotional and confident. They reflect the certainty that came from both the new religious strain, Pietism, which emerged after the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648; and the renewed interest in Mediaeval mysticism. The marriage of Biblical texts with highly figurative music is a hallmark of Buxtehude's vocal writing. Koopman and his forces have grown stronger in interpreting this to us; and allowed themselves appropriate latitude as each new volume has been released.

Here their playing and singing are fluid, communicative, bright yet serious; joyous when they need to be, eager and immediate. Yet their delivery is both earnest and relaxed. It's full of a sense that the performers have really come to know this otherwise unfamiliar music, and love it, make it their own, and expose its glories to us. Listen to the confidence with which soprano Amaryllis Dieltens, for instance, unaggressively projects assuredness in the Dixit Dominus [CD.1 tr 8]. And bass Klaus Martens suggests quiet authority in O Frühlicht Stunden, BuxWV 85 [CD.1 tr.10].

The Waalse Kerk in Amsterdam was again used for these recordings, which took place in June and November/December 2013 and January and June 2013. It's a warm and giving acoustic with just enough space for the soloists' voices to have that sense of presence which adds even further to Buxtehude's gentle yet unequivocal sense of humanity. These works describe and reflect real situations with real people. The mellowness conjured up by the engineers should not deceive. Buxtehude was considered the giant and influential figure that he was for good reason. If you've been collecting this cycle, then of course you'll want this volume. If you've come late to one of the more persuasive and penetrating corners of (German) Baroque repertoire thanks to the dedication and perceptiveness of Koopman, start here by all means. But do work your way back through the rest of these astonishingly enjoyable and revealing CDs. Thoroughly recommended.

Copyright © 2014, Mark Sealey