COMPLETE ORGAN WORKS Vol. 1 / BUXTEHUDE: Praeludia in C, g min., F, G, f min., d min., e min., E. Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist, BWV 208 & 209. Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren, Auf meinen lieben Gott. Ciaconna in e min. Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der den Tod. Ich dank dir schon durch deinen Sohn. Magnificat primi toni. Magnificat nonin toni. Ach Gott und Herr. Ich dank dir, lieber Herre. Toccata in d min. Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin. Passacaglia in d min. Toccata in F. Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott. Canzonettas in a min. & C. Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. Fugas in C & G. O lux beata Trinitas. Mensch, willst du leben seligich / Friedhelm Flamme / CPO SACD 555 253-2
This is the first of a proposed series, which will undoubtedly run to three 2-CD sets, of the complete organ works of Dietrich (or Diderich in the original Dutch) Buxtehude. My readers know how fond I am of Buxtehude as a composer; one critic referred to him, once, as “Bach in the raw,” and that’s an apt statement. Buxtehude—who, incidentally, was highly admired by J.S. Bach—preceded old J.S. by several decades (he died in 1707), but made an indelible impression on the younger composer who once traveled a great many miles to go and visit him in person.
The principal competition for this set is the one on Dacapo by organist Bine Bryndorf, which is already completed and sells as a 6-CD boxed set on Amazon for only $31.46, but I listened to a couple of pieces from the Bryndorf set that are on this first volume by Flamme and there’s just no comparison in performance quality. Everything Bryndorf plays sounds mushy and indistinct, and it doesn’t help that Dacapo has recorded the set with too much space around the organ which further gives it an even mushier sound. Flamme’s performances are crisp and detailed, with bright sonorities and great clarity for the inner voices which, after all, are the heart of Buxtehude’s art. And he’s not playing a wheezy little organ, either, but the very impressive Christoph-Treutmann organ of the Klosterkirche of St. George, which has a wide variety of stops, all of them listed in the booklet, piece by piece, for the edification of other organists…most of us really don’t care as long as it sounds good.
The biggest problem I have with the music, as in the case of the dozens of Bach chorales, is their religious connotation. Unlike some of the Masses. Passions, Magnificats, Requiems etc., which can have a generic connotation related to one’s personal relationship with the Deity that created the Universe, a great many of these pieces are tied to a specific form of religiosity, i.e., the Lutheran hymns that both Buxtehude and J.S. Bach bought into the concept of, and these often have plodding, heavy-handed melodic lines set to primarily minor keys which create an oppressive feeling in the listener. Perhaps they might strike you somewhat differently, but I know from talking to others that I am not alone in this feeling. Yes, Buxtehude’s treatment of these hymns is exceedingly clever and imaginative, but a hymn is a hymn is a hymn, and I’m just not into them.
Given the extraordinarily high quality of both these performances and the recorded sound, however, I can easily recommend this as the start of a preferred set of Buxtehude’s organ works for those who enjoy this sort of music better than I. As for me, I will stick to the two-CD set I have on the Apex label by the late, great French organist Marie-Claire Alain. That’s enough of Buxtehude’s organ music to last me a lifetime.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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