Classical Net recently looked at Challenge Classics CC72256, Volume XVII of Buxtehude's "Opera Omnia", the seventh volume of the composer's vocal works, by Ton Koopman and his soloists, chorus and orchestra from Amsterdam. Now, as the series is apparently complete (earlier news from Challenge suggested as many as two dozen CD sets; the documentation on CC72256 referred to three more releases and wording on the Challenge site is equally confusing), here is what we should take as the final two-CD set containing Buxtehude's remaining vocal works, the eighth volume of them.
They are splendid compositions – splendidly performed. Four of the soloists (soprano Dorothee Wohlgemuth, alto Maarten Engeltjes, tenor Tilman Lichdi and bass Klaus Mertens) are common to Volumes XVII and XVIII – as are the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir; and the very energetic and enthusiastic Koopman, of course.
It's to be noted that neither Koopman nor any of these performers has run out of steam. Not only have they, if anything, "loosened up", become freer and more relaxed in their performances, as they have grown ever more familiar with Buxtehude's idiom and the North German Baroque style of which he was such a major proponent. But on this recording soloists, choir and orchestra infuse each such momentum-filled exhortations as "Wache auf" ("wake up") in Mein Herz ist bereit (BuxWV 73) [CD.1 tr. 6] with an excitement, audacity and confidence that neither tires nor over stimulates.
Rather, the delivery of both bass and upper strings in that work conveys the conviction and consolidated sense of an individual's just response to belief. Throughout the CDs, Koopman has his forces working with even greater freshness. And with a very pleasing variety of approaches (energetic, wry, exploratory, confident) to the music. These elevate what for the most part will be obscure, or at least unknown, music potentially from a "catalog" or succession of works to an experience that leaves the listener curious about the context of the current piece; and anxious to hear the next one. This is due both to the inventiveness and originality of Buxtehude's music as it can be heard here; and to Koopman's knowledge and expertise in bringing it so elegantly and spontaneously to life.
Buxtehude composed the bulk of his vocal music after arriving at the church of St. Mary in Lübeck in 1668. It is, thus, his more mature work. Very regrettably much of the rest of this beautiful music has not survived. But what has is of such great quality as to tantalize. The Latin compositions are mostly concerti on biblical texts; the German settings mostly Lutheran hymns and poetry. Both types are represented on these two CDs. Both are enthralling – and not only because they display ways in which Buxtehude extended the relationships between texts, words and instrumental accompaniment and involvement. But also because the resulting works are whole, generous and trenchant in their own right when that blend has been achieved.
Here are performances, then, of largely unfamiliar works that deserve to be much better known. They certainly recreate the excitement and conviction which those in Buxtehude's circle must have felt on first meeting them. Koopman has that newness in his step without ever suggesting mere novelty. At the same time, on repeated listening, the listener is struck by the sense that Buxtehude is so inventive and creative in marrying text to music that there is still much in reserve. Yet without ever compromising the way each work shines, impresses, inspires. The commitment of the performers reflects this: the purity of Pahn's soprano in Singet dem Herrn (BuxWV 98) [CD.1 tr. 7], for instance.
These works often bring you up short and then reverse what you were expecting – until you get to know them. You then realize that Koopman has inducted you into a wonderful world with a richness that you might not have expected. Listen to the syncopated dance rhythms of the Canon and Gigue, BuxWV 121 [CD.1 tr.s 8,9]; these provide a simple but effective illumination of the way Buxtehude must have approached and portrayed (his own) religious certainty.
The Waalse Kerk in Amsterdam was once again used for these recordings, which actually took place in the summer and autumn of 2012. Its acoustic is kind yet revealing: each sung syllable is clear; the enthusiasm, doubts, joy, subdued pathos and conviction of the soloists are all evident at all times. Though there is greater immediacy in their delivery – particularly than we heard in the earlier releases from almost ten years ago. The texts in German/Latin and English translation are reproduced in the booklet that comes with the CDs; there are brief bios of the performers with useful descriptions of the works. It goes without saying that no-one who has been collecting these marvelous CDs will want to miss this one. It's an ambitious, but successful, series. And the reach, quality and level of performance on what does look like its final volume is as high as ever.
Copyright © 2014, Mark Sealey