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Kirk McElhearn
MusicWeb International, July 2001

"The two suites on this recording are both in major keys. The Suite in A Major is a bright, happy work, which sounds very much like the tone of Bach's French Suites. The music here is playful and gay, and Mortensen's performance and ornamentation is ideal. Even the slow movements, the allemande and sarabande, are cheerful.

The F major suite is more restrained, less extroverted than the A Major suite. Yet, it is, like all of Buxtehude's suites, a beautiful series of movements that develop the themes from the opening allemande. Once again, this suite recalls the music of Louis Couperin.

The Canzonetta in D minor is an attractive contrapuntal work. It is a rich fugue based on a pensive theme, and develops a series of variations around this theme. Buxtehude decidedly liked variations.

The high point of this recording is the Aria: "La Capricciosa" in G Major. Buxtehude's grandest keyboard work, at over 28 minutes long, this as a series of 32 variations on a theme, part of which is from the popular song "Kraut und Ruben". What is especially interesting about this work is that Bach also used this tune in the final variation of his masterpiece the Goldberg Variations; it appears in the 30th variation, the quodlibet. In this amazing work, Buxtehude did something similar to Bach - starting from a basic subject, he developed an astounding series of variations, changing the theme into different styles, forms, rhythms, and doing so with total mastery. Bach's work is different, though. Bach used the bass line of the aria as the recurring theme; Buxtehude uses the melody itself.

The first exposition of the theme is a beautiful, almost dainty French-style movement. Light and airy, this theme is simple, and the first part of the work is relatively unassuming. Yet, throughout these variations, we hear the melody being changed, adapted, ornamented, and reworked in a variety of ways, with the original theme always recognisable. Buxtehude also uses many different dance forms in these variations - from the initial Bergamesca, he moves through gigues, sarabandes and minuets. The movements in this work range from simple, melodic pieces to more virtuosic sections, covering the entire range of Buxtehude's varied compositional repertory. This work is, quite simply, one of the high points of baroque harpsichord music.

This recording is perhaps the most essential of the three discs so far released in this series. The Aria: "La Capricciosa" is undoubtedly Buxtehude's masterpiece, and probably a model for Bach's Goldberg Variations. Another excellent recording that all lovers of harpsichord music should own."

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