BUXTEHUDE Trio Sonatas Op 1
In their quickly expanding discography Jonathan Cohen’s Arcangelo are showing themselves to be among the most versatile ensembles around, as at home in Bach’s B minor Mass as Couperin’s Leçons de Ténèbres, in Mendelssohn concert arias as in Monteverdi madrigals. This is their first release entirely devoted to instrumental chamber music, for which they have chosen the first of Buxtehude’s two published books of trio sonatas, his Op 1 of 1694. Buxtehude’s trios are not so much in the planned-out Corellian mould as the freer-formed stylus phantasticus manner of the mid-17th century, even breaking into quasi-recitative in places, though there are also solidly crafted moments to remind us of the composer’s eminence as an organist. They differ, too, from most other trio sonatas in that their upper parts are for violin and viola da gamba rather than two equal-tessitura instruments, with resultant losses in lightness and gains in richness and depth.
A factor that has allowed Arcangelo to be so adaptable is the ever-effective policy of employing top-rate musicians; and, with violinist Sophie Gent and gambist Jonathan Manson proving masters of this music’s sometimes virtuoso demands and Thomas Dunford among the most sought-after continuo lutenists of the moment, the standards here are as high as ever. The shifting moods of the music are realised with taste and precision – whether dancing, indulging in earnest chromatic twisting or yielding to exuberance (Dunford twice ends a sonata with a rather Arabic flourish) – yet each sonata’s composure is successfully preserved.
The gamba being gentler than the violin, the balance of attention can swing to its disadvantage, and it seems to me that the recording could have compensated for that a little more; Manson’s eloquent playing certainly demands a better hearing, yet on occasion drifts even behind the lute. The lute, by the way, is also more prominent than Cohen’s harpsichord, which may or may not be deliberate. Fine performances nonetheless.