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Dacapo - The National Music Anthology of Denmark

Format:  SACD

Catalogue Number:  6.220534

Barcode:  747313153466

Release month:  Oct 2010

Period:  Early Music, Early Music, Baroque


Dietrich Buxtehude: Scandinavian Cantatas

01 December 2010  International Record Review
Marc Rochester

Dacapo has crammed into the booklet not just the usual recording data, photographs, generous biographies of the artists and the full Swedish and Latin sung texts with translations into English, German and Danish but also an absorbing and very extensive note on Buxtehude, his life, his music and the individual works on this disc (although, for good reasons but nevertheless a little confusingly, discussed in a different order from that in which they appear on the disc). This is by Professor Kerala J. Snyder, possibly the leading authority on the composer and certainly the most eloquent advocate of his place in musical history. In light of what it has managed to pack into its 48 pages, it seems churlish to point to an omission; indeed, Dacapo itself draws attention to the absence of any printed information on the organ of St Mary's Church, Elsinore, on which two large solo organ works are performed. It does suggest it is to be found on its website, but it takes a more patient and lateral-thinking person than I to root it out and, after many hours of searching, I still haven't found it.

This lack of organ information might seem a small irrelevance in a disc devoted to vocal music, but its significance is that this church is where Buxtehude was organist between 1660 and 1668 and, although Bine Bryndorf has recorded on this same organ these two Buxtehude works before ­ the Praeludium in E minor, BuxWV142 and the Passacaglia, BuxWV161 ­ these not only appear to be new recordings but are greatly enriched by their context.

The booklet tells us that Buxtehude's professional life was entirely as an organist and composition of vocal music was never part of his contractual obligations at his posts in either Elsinore or Lübeck. The organ music, therefore, represents the pillars of Buxtehude's output, while the vocal pieces were composed, it would seem, to add a little colour and variety to the concerts Buxtehude gave after vespers on Sunday evenings at Lübeck (he moved the times of these concerts from their previous slot on OEThursdays, prior to the opening of the stock exchange¹). Before I turn to those vocal performances, it would be wrong not to point out that the organ works are given absolutely first-rate performances and the organ sound has been fulsomely captured by the Dacapo engineers.

Booklet and organ notwithstanding, the most impressive thing about this release is, of course, the glorious performances by Paul Hillier and his dozen musicians, equally divided between the instrumentalists of The TOV Band and the singers of the Theatre of Voices. The move from the heavyweight Praeludium in E minor to the graceful instrumental prelude to the Pange Lingua gloriosi ­ happily in the same key ­ is a true piece of aural musical theatre: as the voices emerge, the whole thing takes on an aura of great refinement and poise. The ability the Theatre of Voices personnel have of blending themselves into a cogent chamber choir, masking their vocal individualities in the cause of a common sound, is possibly their most notable attribute. With Hillier's sensitive direction, treating everything ­ musically compelling or otherwise ­ with infinite care and attention to detail, there is none of the thinness of sound one might expect from such small vocal forces. With immaculate clarity of line, with a perfect balance between instruments and voices and with superlative shaping of the individual lines, Hillier produces some thoroughly invigorating and totally absorbing accounts, the unquestionable highlight being the magnificently life-affirming Domine salvum fac regem.

Not everything here is musically so distinguished and I suppose in the normal course of events the simple setting of the Swedish Att du Jesu vill mig höra for soprano solo would not warrant close inspection. Yet here a combination of Else Torp's delicious vocal insouciance and the instrumental ensemble setting the scene with what Snyder refers to as their OEartful symphonia and ritornello¹ justifies the inclusion of this otherwise unexceptional piece. Of much more substance is the unique Mass setting, with its studied contrapuntal intertwining, which the Theatre of Voices trace with excellent clarity, and the Accedite gentes, which we are advised probably was not written by Buxtehude at all; this is rather ironic since, numerically, it heads Buxtehude's catalogue of compositions.

In short, the disc celebrates great musicality if not great music.


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