Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri

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COMPOSERS: Buxtehude
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri
WORKS: Membra Jesu Nostri
PERFORMER: Robin Blaze (countertenor), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Giles Underwood (bass); Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford; Phantasm/Daniel Hyde


The seven vocal concertos which comprise Buxtehude’s meditative Membra Jesu Nostri are now as much part of the composer’s mainstream as his organ music. Indeed, during the past decade and more this poignant masterpiece has proved to be so appealing that some 20 versions have been recorded. This is the latest.

The cantatas, though musically autonomous, are linked by their Latin texts containing passages from the 13th-century poem Salve mundi salutare whose focal point is the contemplation of seven parts of Christ’s body on the cross. Buxtehude himself did not specify an ideal for the vocal forces. While some performances opt for one-to-a-part, others, like this one, prefer a fuller choral texture. The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford and the varied solo group configurations under Daniel Hyde’s direction give this new issue a decidedly English slant, which provides striking contrasts with the many versions deploying continentally trained voices. The lightly articulated and youthful sounding declamation of the Magdalen Choir is stylishly supported by the small instrumental ensemble, Phantasm, whose phrasing is both elegant and expressive. While Buxtehude adheres more or less to a formal scheme shared among all seven pieces, he sustains a rich variety of instrumental colours and vocal combinations within his integrated plan.

There is no denying that the Magdalen College boys’ voices enter an arena already well populated with excellent versions of this affectingly contemplative music – those by The Sixteen (Linn), Currende (Enfoda), the Netherlands Bach Society (Channel Classics) and Cantus Cölln (Harmonia Mundi) immediately spring to mind – but their distinctive timbre and innocently expressive immediacy provide an additional and unfailingly pleasing dimension to the work.


Nicholas Anderson