Buxtehude: Membra Jesu nostri

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COMPOSERS: Buxtehude
WORKS: Membra Jesu nostri
PERFORMER: The Sixteen, Symphony of Harmony & Invention/Harry Christophers
Buxtehude’s position as organist of Lübeck’s Marienkirche, which he held for almost 40 years, required little of him in the sphere of vocal music. Yet various special services of the church, commissions and the celebrated evening concerts held in the Marienkirche ensured that his considerable expressive powers in writing for the voice were not allowed to rust. The seven cantatas or, more properly, vocal concertos which constitute the deeply poignant Membra Jesu nostri, though musically autonomous are nevertheless closely linked by their Latin texts and their sharply defined focal point – the contemplation of seven parts of Christ’s body on the Cross. While Buxtehude’s many vocal works approximating to the Lutheran cantata are still sadly under-represented on disc the same does not apply to the Membra Jesu nostri, of which six versions are currently available, all issued within the past 12 years or so. Recommending a single performance from among them is difficult since each has its own, sometimes quite distinctive virtues. Least restrained expressively is John Eliot Gardiner’s fervent version (DG Archiv). Another by Ton Koopman (Teldec) fields a starry cast of soloists which, however, somewhat dilutes an important dimension of corporate unity among voices and instruments. This is one of the strengths of the new recording by Harry Christophers; but there are others, too, among them a sustained expressive sensibility heightened by lucid textures and a winning recognition of the innate power of this music to move its audience – all of which puts the newcomer comfortably in the lead of its rivals. Nicholas Anderson