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Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, April 2011

I’ve included this for the sake of the Easter aria O fröhliche Stunden, but there’s music here for other festivals, so it’s appropriate at any time of year. …I recommend this as outstanding: anything with Emma Kirkby is self-recommending. The texts and translations are available online.

Penguin Guide, January 2009

Buxtehude wrote his Fried und freudenreich Hinfahrt at the time of his father’s death in 1674. The three Contrapuncti (used here effectively as interludes) were probably intended to manifest the learning of the deceased, but the Klag-Lied is a poignant strophic song of mourning, sung here with infinite tenderness. Yet the programme opens with the delightfully jubilant aria, O fröliche Stunden (‘Oh Happy Hours’), which is then followed by the beautiful sacred concerto (or cantata), O dulcis Jesu, in which Emma Kirkby alternates expressive richness with a more florid, arioso style. Was mich auf dieser Welt betrübt is another simple aria of great charm. But the most ambitious work here is Singet dem Herrn (a setting of the first four verses of Psalm 98) in which the soprano voice duets delightfully with a solo violin, while the closing Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab is in the form of a chaconne. With Kirkby in freshest voice, this is a wholly enjoyable disc. Throughout, her radiant and nimble singing is matched by the refinement and warmth of the accompaniments, mostly featuring two violins (John Holloway and Manfredo Kraemer in perfect accord)…Full texts and translations are included.

Brian Robins
Fanfare, July 2007

The works included, all scored for soprano with one or two violins and continuo, represent a good cross section of the wide variation of genres encompassed by Buxtehude in his smaller-scale sacred works. They range from the highly Italianate O dulcis Jesu, BuxWV 83 to simple strophic Lieder such as Was mich auf dieser Welt betrübt, BuxWV 105, all of which are sung by Emma Kirkby with a consummate artistry ideally supplemented by her distinguished instrumental colleagues. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

David Bickers
Gramophone, June 2007

Ton Koopman begins his laudable complete survey of Buxtehude's vocal works with an anonymous undated oratorio Wacht! Euch Zum Streit Gefasset Macht (published under the inauthentic title Jüngste Gericht in 1939). Christoph Wolff cautiously distances himself from the attribution to Buxtehude in his lucid booklet essay, but Koopman declares he sees no room for doubt (though the incomplete state of the sources required him to undertake some editorial reconstruction of important instrumental parts). One sympathises with Koopman's view: much of the five-part choral writing is masterly (although the Amsterdam Baroque Choir's sopranos are better in slower passages and sound pinched in quicker music), and the expressively weighted string ritornelli sound appropriately Italianate (Koopman encourages fussily decorated playing, but on this occasion it does not get in the way of proceedings). Solo movements are short and do not make notable demands on singers. Robin Blaze and Johantette Zomer are on masterly form but I searched in vain for an explanation about why most soprano solos are carved up between three singers taking a verse each. Those enamoured of opulent voices may wonder why Emma Kirkby is the undisputed first lady of early music, but Dacapo's 1996 anthology of Buxtehude's music for solo voice and instruments (reissued by Naxos) captures much of what makes her so special: she has acute awareness of dance forms in her delivery of rythms (even in slower music), a crystal-clear tone, superb agility in quick passages, and a marvellous sense of rhetorical communication. The mournfully sublime Klaglied (BuxWV76 No 2) is movingly performed. I also admired the lovely 12-minute O dulcis Jesu. Ritornelli are beautifully articulated by violinists John Holloway and Manfred Kraemer, and Lars Ulrik Mortensen's organ conitnuo is delightful. The programme is 100 percent authentic Buxtehude, spellbindingly performed, and with an excellent essay by the leading authority Kerala Snyder (although sung texts are not included). While Ton Koopman's volume is intriguing for those already converted to the cause, Emma Kirkby and her accomplices do more to illustrate why he is the supreme genius of the generation before JS Bach.

William Yeoman
Limelight, May 2007

This Naxos reissue of an original Dacapo release is special for two reasons: firstly, the shift from full- to budget price; secondly, the extremely high quality of both the music and the performances. The modest scoring (solo soprano, two violins and continuo) results in an agility and transparency that allows the often powerful texts to speak out clearly. Especially when sung by Emma Kirkby. Her combination of vocal purity and precise diction imbues both joy (O Früliche Stunden – “O happy hours”) and sadness (Klag-Lied – “Lament”) with a high yet delivate seriousness, while her famous ability in the roulade department is best savoured in the concluding Alleluias of some of the songs. John Holloway and Manfred Kraemer are often exuberant; Jaap ter Linden is generally understated. Lars Ulrick Mortensen is, for his part, given an opportunity to shine in the four organ solos assigned him—and he does.

MusicWeb International, April 2007

Previously issued on Dacapo 8.224062, this is an outstanding celebration of some important aspects of Buxtehude’s very considerable genius. Admirers of Buxtehude – or, indeed, of Emma Kirkby, who don’t already have this CD in their collection should rapidly take the opportunity to acquire it.

Buxtehude’s vocal music, for all its surely undeniable quality and interest, still seems to take second place, in terms of esteem, to his writing for the organ. I have no wish to denigrate the organ music. As a student I once walked seven miles home through the night after listening to a Buxtehude recital which finished after my last bus had left – not quite on a par, I admit, with Bach’s legendary walk of 280 miles from Anstadt to Lübeck to hear Buxtehude play in 1705 (see Kerala J. Snyder’s ‘To Lübeck in the Steps of J. S. Bach’, The Musical Times, Vol. 127, No. 1726, Dec., 1986, pp. 672-677), but very well worth it. The vocal music, at its best, merits a similar degree of devotion and in Emma Kirkby and her accompanists it finds utterly persuasive advocates.

Enough has been said over the years about Kirkby’s voice, and the few listeners who seem to have an aversion to it will doubtless know to steer clear of this. For many of the rest of us, the extraordinary intelligence of Kirkby’s interpretation of text, the way she can bring to life both words and music by the sheer perceptiveness of her ‘reading’ of how the two interact, has been one of the great pleasures of the Early Music revival of recent decades. Here she sings with both her usual clarity and precision and an expressive subtlety that is a joy to listen to, aided as it is – and doubtless stimulated by – the expert work of John Holloway, Manfred Kraemer as solo and duet violinists and the vital and unexcessively colourful continuo work of Jaap ter Linden and Lars Ulrik Mortensen. These are musicians who have often worked together, and their intuitive ease in one another’s company is evident in everything that they do.

All but two of the works performed here are preserved in manuscripts copied at the Swedish royal court and now preserved in the University Library in Uppsala. The many highlights of the disc include the marvellously joyful Easter aria ‘O fröhliche Stunden, / O fröhliche Zeit’ which opens the programme and which ends with an exuberantly florid Amen in which one hears Kirkby at something like her best; the vocal concerto, ‘Gen Himmel zu dem vater mein’, which sets the last two verses of Luther’s chorale ‘Nun freut euch lieben Christen g’mein’, verses on the Ascension of Christ which provoke music of rapturous beauty from Buxtehude, in which voice and violins interact to wonderful effect. ‘O dulcis Jesu, / o amor cordis mei’ is a gorgeous piece, imbued with the spirit of love for Christ, calling for – and getting – a degree of almost Italianate virtuosity from the soloist; ‘Sicut Moses exaltavit serpentem’ is based on the Gospel for Trinity Sunday and gives particular opportunity for the violins of Holloway and Kraemer to hold centre-stage – theatrical metaphors don’t seem out of place for much of this music.

The recorded sound is all that one requires and there are good booklet notes by the Buxtehude Scholar Kerala J. Snyder. Texts and translations are not included, but can be accessed via the Naxos website. So far as I remember a further volume of Buxtehude vocal music by these forces was issued on Da Capo; I look forward to that making its return on Naxos too.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2007

Legend would have it, though without a grain of truth - that Johann Sebastian Bach walked 200 miles just to hear the organ played by Dietrich Buxtehude. That the story was believed reveals the high esteem Buxtehude enjoyed as the father of the great German organ tradition. Born around 1637, and probably from Denmark, his mature life was spent in northern Germany, where as organist in Lubeck he enjoyed a major influence over the country's music. He was a highly productive composer, mainly of sacred scores written during the formative years of the Protestant church cantata, the present disc forming the first in a survey of his vocal music that numbered over 120 pieces. Whereas I find his organ works dry and academic, his vocal music is more lively and often of a happy nature as we find in the opening track, O frohliche Stunden. But there is also sadness, as we will find in Fried-und freudenreiche Hinfahrt, written upon his father's death. Apart from the voice many of the pieces have extended solo parts for instruments, the accompaniments more than a functional backdrop. The disc is taken from a Dacapo release that has been available for some time, the recording sessions taking place in 1996.  It features one of the great singers in the world of Baroque music, Emma Kirkby, together with leading period instrumentalists. Recorded in a warm church acoustic her voice is radiantly smooth and so wonderfully fresh. Intonation is in the centre of every note, with the exemplary diction we expect from her. The chamber group is technical perfection and with impeccable Baroque credentials, the engineers having achieved an ideal internal balance. It is the first in a series of the composer's vocal music and at the new budget price is an essential purchase.

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