Purcell Quartet plays Buxtehude and Weckman

Music both well known and more obscure by Bach’s great predecessor

Author: 
David Vickers

Purcell Quartet plays Buxtehude and Weckman

  • Membra Jesu nostri
  • Missa brevis

Buxtehude’s mesmerising Passion cantata cycle Membra Jesu nostri (1680) has been recorded frequently by forces either intimate (one

voice per part) or a bit larger. This new version by the Purcell Quartet and friends adopts the former approach. Throughout proceedings, five experienced early music singers give an attractive performance that feels nonchalant and sweeter than some richer melancholic interpretations (such as the spellbinding Netherlands Bach Society – Channel Classics, 6/06); they demonstrate an intuitive madrigalian interplay in Buxtehude’s choruses that open (and also conclude) each of the cantatas, although the airiness of the overall blend from voices and instrumentalists conveys more light than shadow and can occasionally seem top-heavy. In numerous short solo passages Emma Kirkby’s singing has its customary authority with text and style, even if it struggles to float as effortlessly as it used to; Elin Manahan Thomas is an ideal sparring partner. Michael Chance’s singing is typically profound, even if his timbre sounds worn at crucial times. Father Time has little mercy for the most wonderful heroes of the British early music movement but it is still glorious to hear Kirkby and Chance (combined with Thomas) in the opening bars of the chorus “Quid sunt plagae istae” (Ad manus). Charles Daniels’s soft high tenor has a hushed devotional character and the disc concludes with Peter Harvey’s compassionate singing of Matthias Weckmann’s Kommet her zu mir alle (a setting of Matthew 11:28‑30 accompanied sensitively by two violins, three bass viols and continuo). The Purcell Quartet play with reliable stylishness, Fretwork provide an expressive contribution to Buxtehude’s extraordinary sixth cantata, Ad cor, pronunciation of Latin texts is meticulously Germanic throughout, high pitch is used sensibly (A=470Hz), and Peter Holman provides scholarly notes.

Less familiar fare is explored by Paul Hillier and the Theatre of Voices. Their programme of “Scandinavian Cantatas” presents both of Buxtehude’s little-known short works with texts in Swedish and also five works in Latin, including the composer’s only Missa brevis written in the stile antico. Organist Bine Bryndorf has already recorded a survey of Buxtehude’s organ music on historic instruments for Dacapo but here she provides two magnificent solo performances played on the organ of St Mary’s in Elsinore (where Buxtehude worked from 1660 until 1668, when he got his job for life at St Mary’s in Lübeck). The Theatre of Voices convey a compelling atmosphere of drama, commitment and plangent sonorities in Buxtehude’s setting of Pangue lingua gloriosi (a medieval hymn attributed to Thomas Aquinas), and the introductory sonata to the psalm Ecce nunc benedicite Domino is played with refined joyfulness. Even though Buxtehude probably did not compose Accedite gentes, its text of paraphrased psalms is communicated with vigour and authority. The Swedish concertato chorale Herren vår Gud is performed eloquently and the lamentful aria Att du Jesu vill mig höra is sung sincerely by soprano Else Torp. Dacapo’s stunning sound engineering, Kerala Snyder’s expert essay and the superb musicianship of the six voices (personnel almost identical to Hillier’s Schütz cycle with Ars Nova Copenhagen) and seven instrumentalists (led immaculately by violinist Peter Spissky) make this easy to recommend enthusiastically.

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