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NuVoid, December 2009

I’ve long been familiar with Dieterich Buxtehude’s (c.1637–1707) sacred vocal music but until recently, I didn’t even realize he wrote any instrumental music at all. In fact, he wrote very little—but one of my favorite baroque violinists, John Holloway, undertook a survey of the extant chamber music for the Danish DaCapo label in the early nineties which have now been repackaged by the intrepid Naxos in fine budget editions. Wow, the music is absolutely sublime! The finest Baroque music intimates that human perfection may just be possible; it utterly lacks the self-doubt that plagues the post-Romantic age in which we now live. I look forward to picking up the first two volumes!

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, September 2008

Buxtehude’s music is always fresh, innovative, and interesting, playing with contrasts between major and minor, improvisatory passages and tightly controlled figures, and slow and fast tempos…these musicians play with both an obvious love of the music as well as an understanding of style; you certainly can’t fault them for lack of enjoyment in their performances…like so many recordings I’ve heard of Buxtehude, it seems almost impossible to kill his spirit no matter how reserved the players are, but in this case the musicians’ enthusiasm equals the quality of the material. Go for it!

William Yeoman
Limelight, May 2008

Buxtehude’s perfect balance between disciplined fugal textures and improvisatory passages of great invention is matched by an equally varied and stylish approach from all concerned. These are performances shot through with a delight in overall sonority (especially evident in the succulent harmonies in slow movements such as the final Lento of the C major sonata BuxWV266 which ends the disc), the joy of the dance and Buxtehude’s many exuberant examples of the stylus phantasticus.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, May 2008

Buxtehude’s music forms a bridge between late renaissance composers such as Heinrich Schuetz (often called ‘the father of German music’) and the predominant figure of J.S. Bach. His works can often sound academically dry, especially some of his sacred compositions. Yet this excellent recording of ‘enriched’ trio-sonatas abounds in majestic slow movements, masterful fugal technique, and melodious, graceful dance movements that require virtuoso technique.

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, March 2008

This very welcome reissue of Dacapo 8.224005 is yet another spin-off from the 2007 commemoration of the tercentenary of Buxtehude’s death and one of many from the Naxos/Dacapo stable. If it was well worth having before, at the new price it becomes essential.

Two things about this recording are glaringly obvious: that its reissue was inevitable, since the two earlier Dacapo CDs of Opp. 1 and 2, with three of the same performers, had been reissued by Naxos, and that the very names of the performers guarantee the quality of the performances—some of the most accomplished baroque instrumentalists on the block. I need only add that the music is as well worth hearing as that on the other two discs, despite the absence of opus numbers, and that the recording is just as good—close but not too close.

In a sense, that’s my job done—go out and buy this CD, plus the earlier two, if you have not yet done so. If you want to be doubly sure of the quality of those other two other reissues, please refer to the Musicweb reviews: Op.1 on 8.557248 (see review) and Op.2 on 8.557249 (see review), the latter a Bargain of the Month. The low opus numbers do not indicate juvenile works, since Buxtehude published very little—only these two sets of sonatas, according to Grove—and that only when he was comparatively old.

These unpublished sonatas come from a large collection of Buxtehude’s music in the Düben Collection, now housed in the library of the University of Uppsala. In a dedication Buxtehude referred to Düben as his amico plurimum honorando – the most worthy of honour of his many friends—which seems to indicate a close relationship. Though none of the music in the collection is in autograph score, having been copied by the Dübens, father and son, neither its authenticity nor its quality is in doubt.

Some may even find these unpublished sonatas more attractive, since they are for a more varied ensemble than those of Opp.1 and 2. We tend to think of such music in a secular context but it is so varied that the intended publication of 1684, which never came to fruition but probably included some or all of these works, was advertised as “suitable for performances both as Tafelmusik and in church.”

One sonata here, that in B-flat, BuxWV273, exists in a different form in the published Op.1. The printed version probably represents a revision of this manuscript version and, as the notes indicate, demonstrates a move away from the conventional trio sonata. For all that, the earlier version deserves to be performed; after a 4/4 opening and a second movement, itself a miniature sonata in four sections, it develops into a suite of dance movements—in effect, a link between Corelli’s sonatas and the suites of Telemann and Bach.

All six sonatas are with basso continuo, organ in BuxWV269 and 273, harpsichord elsewhere. Inevitably, therefore, the texture here is somewhat denser than on the Naxos recording of six Corelli Sonatas where I relished the spring-water-like freshness of the performances without the optional cello or gamba. (Op.5, Nos. 7–12, Naxos 8.557799—see review). But if the textures are denser on this Buxtehude CD, they are also richer—a win-win situation for me, since both discs are likely to be frequent visitors to my CD player.

The notes by Niels Martin Jensen are extremely detailed and informative. The English translation is perfectly idiomatic: for once the reader does not have to try to wade through tortured expressions or even have to guess what is meant. The German version appears to be equally idiomatic.

Naxos seem to wish to have the spelling of Buxtehude’s first name both ways—Dieterich their website and Dietrich in the CD documentation. Both versions of the German name are recorded, as well as the Danish equivalent Diderik. His probable birthplace, Oldesloe, now Bad Oldesloe, is in Germany but Denmark has at least an equal claim to him. The Naxos notes, like the article in the Shorter Grove Dictionary of Music—“Danish (or German) composer”—wisely dodge the issue. The current Oxford Companion to Music boldly opts for “Danish composer”.

The cover painting of peasant dancers is a rather crude work in the Brueghel tradition but without the latter’s talent. With their seemingly inexhaustible supply of suitable paintings, Naxos could surely have found something better: Buxtehude’s music is far less rough-and-ready than the painting might imply.

That is just about the only unfavourable comment that I can make. Of the many Buxtehude recordings which have come my way recently from the Naxos/Dacapo stable and elsewhere, this is perhaps the one likely to be played most often. On second thoughts, perhaps the painting is not all that inappropriate, since the musicians on this recording seem to have enjoyed themselves as much as those peasants—and the listener is likely to obtain just the same enjoyment.

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