Buxtehude: Opera Omnia Vol XI - Vocal Works Vol 3 / Koopman, Thornhill, Zomer
Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707) is a major figure in the music of the Baroque period. But his innate worth as a composer of beautiful and profound music exists regardless of period. His historical significance in Baroque organ music is hard to overstate. Yet here we are at the eleventh volume of his complete works conceived and executed by one of the most accomplished and respected directors of the 'early' music movement, Ton Koopman, and next to no attention is being paid to the enterprise, presumably at about its half way point.
To be charitable, that relative neglect could in part be due to the spate of anniversaries lately. To the fact that Buxtehude's music is still poorly known, despite its influence on Bach. It was to hear Buxtehude play that Bach famously walked over 200 miles (from Arnstadt to Lübeck) in October 1705, remember. Moreover, the former's style and achievements greatly influenced the latter. The neglect - of Buxtehude's wonderful music, and of this recording project - could also be due to a fear that Buxtehude's style is inaccessible, his writing foreign, over 'academic', or otherwise unremarkable.
One by one, Koopman's double CDs on his own label, Antoine Marchand (with Challenge), have dispelled such myths and persuasively advocated the variety, beauty and originality of Buxtehude's music. To be sure, his reputation has tended to rest hitherto on his organ music. And indeed Koopman has more than done justice to that segment of the composer's output. Remarkably innovative, it represents the culmination of seventeenth century organ music.
Yet Buxtehude's vocal music is exciting, full of sonority, inventive and of great beauty and vigour. This release is the fourth surveying that body. It consists of a dozen and a half or so arias, concerti and cantatas. Unlike most of Buxtehude's organ music, which was composed in the course of his duties as organist at Lübeck, many of the vocal commissions were for the public concerts held in the winter evenings at St Mary's there … the Abendmusiken. Many of the oratorios which we know Buxtehude wrote have not survived, although - tantalisingly - we do have some printed texts. There are even a couple of works on these CDs which may not be by Buxtehude at all. Koopman has included them so that we can enjoy them nevertheless; and then make up our own minds without the benefit of definitive scholarly conclusions.
Koopman suggests that these Abendmusiken occasions may have had the kind of selection of different styles, genres and durations, arrangements, scoring and formats that are presented on these CDs. Apart from Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg [CD.2 tr.2], none is particularly long: between five and ten minutes - to German, Swedish and Latin texts. Indeed, the variety of works here aids our appreciation significantly. It's performed in a pleasing order, too … little is known about the chronology of Buxtehude's works generally.
The music is neither cold, nor particularly seasonal. One of the first aspects of the music that the listener new to it will notice is the Italian influence. The brass writing in Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg [CD.1 tr.9], for example, could almost be by Gabrieli. Certainly by Schütz, who studied with him.
A key form is the strophic aria, which - like the other forms - makes use of instrumental, solo and choral passages and sections interspersed. These range from the direct to the highly sophisticated. The concerti, again, acknowledge the development in Italy of the form. It's tempting to think of these as ingredients in the emerging and more substantial cantata form, to which Buxtehude made significant contributions. In common with those of Bach, Buxtehude's cantatas (of which there are half a dozen or so here) contain chorales, arias and instrumental concerti - to biblical prose and poetic texts.
The soloists, Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir are on top form. The articulation is idiomatic, the tempi are without exception convincing and the attention to detail is as thorough as if we knew the music intimately. Pahn, Dürmüller and Mertens perhaps stand out for their solid grasp of the need for and success in expressiveness. No maudlin or indulgence, but fully communicative performances, that bear many many listenings.
The CDs come with a highly informative booklet, notes and texts - in the originals and English. The acoustic of the Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam, is just right: there is enough atmosphere to complement the music; but not to overwhelm or disguise its impact. It almost goes without saying that, if you're already collecting this series, you shouldn't hesitate for a second before adding this instalment. If you're not, to begin here with the vocal works may surprise. It's highly likely to get you hooked and go looking for the earlier volumes. You won't regret it.
-- Mark Sealey, MusicWeb International
Catalog Number: CC72250
Composer: Anonymous, Dietrich Buxtehude
Conductor: Ton Koopman
Orchestra/Ensemble: Amsterdam Baroque Choir, Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra
Performer: Andreas Karasiak, Bettina Pahn, Johannette Zomer, Jörg Dürmüller, Klaus Mertens, Miriam Meyer, Patrick Van Goethem, Siri Karoline Thornhill