BUXTEHUDE Membra Jesu nostri
Buxtehude’s concise cantata-cycle Membra Jesu nostri is an exquisite contemplation of seven different parts of Christ’s crucified body. Daniel Hyde’s colleagues from Phantasm provide the five part viol consort in the penultimate cantata, ‘Ad cor’, but the rest of the cantatas feature two violins and basso continuo played by a small ad hoc band of expert instrumentalists led by violinist Simon Jones; the gentle articulation of the trembling strings in the sonata in tremulo that begins ‘Ad genua’ is judged perfectly, and the animated sonata that introduces ‘Ad latus’ has compelling vigour (although the ensuing chorus, ‘Surge, amica mea’, misses the contrast of soft sensuality that Buxtehude’s writing invites).
The 26-strong Choir of Magdalen College swamp the half-dozen players in choruses – although the choir’s confidently precise sonorities are laudable. Some solo parts are sung by eminent alumni Robin Blaze, John Mark Ainsley and Giles Underwood returning to their alma mater (they take the limelight in the fifth cantata ‘Ad pectus’; Ainsley is less comfortable vocally than his colleagues). The consistent allocation of solo soprano arias to unison boys is an anachronistic policy that mars this recording, and in particular the intimate music in ‘Ad cor’ (played beautifully by Phantasm). However, there is rich splendour in choral textures during the final cantata ‘Ad faciem’, and this is one of the few versions in a vast discography that offers the alternative of boys’ voices on the upper parts.