Buxtehude: Sacred Cantatas, BuxWV 53, 59, 64, 97, 104, 107 & 108; Passacaglia, BuxWV 161

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COMPOSERS: Buxtehude
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Sacred Cantatas, BuxWV 53, 59, 64, 97, 104, 107 & 108; Passacaglia, BuxWV 161
PERFORMER: Matthew White (countertenor), Katherine Hill (soprano), Paul Grindlay (bass); Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557041
Buxtehude’s cantatas occupy territory between earlier chorale concertato styles and Bach’s first essays in cantata form. His texts were usually compiled from biblical passages, hymns and miscellaneous devotional poems of a kind to which English poets like George Herbert, Thomas Traherne and Henry Vaughan provide elevated parallels. Unlike Bach at Leipzig, Buxtehude was employed at Lübeck foremost as an organist and it is remarkable that so much sacred vocal music by him has survived. Much of it possesses an intimacy and a quiet fervour which suggests that at least some of the pieces may have been intended for private use as well as for the Abendmusik concerts which he inaugurated. Kevin Mallon and his Toronto-based Aradia Ensemble have chosen seven well contrasted vocal works with a Passacaglia arranged for strings providing an interlude. The expressive radiance with which so much of this music is suffused is conveyed with affection and a firm stylistic sense by Mallon’s forces. Voices and instruments enter into a well-balanced partnership, resulting in a rewarding textural transparency. Much of the music is well off the beaten track, though Jesu meine Freud und Lust – in which Buxtehude treats Johann Franck’s six-verse hymn as a set of variations, enabling him to match musical ideas with textual content and the Jubilate Domino – enjoys wider currency. The Passacaglia is played with limpid tenderness and self-effacing discretion by the accomplished string ensemble, though I would have liked a little more expressive zeal in passages of heightened intensity. Individual vocal contributions – above all, perhaps, those by countertenor Matthew White – are tonally secure and commendably attentive to texts. In summary, a satisfying release of music by ‘the great expressive composer’, as Buxtehude was entered in the Bach family chronicle. Nicholas Anderson

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