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COMPOSERS: Buxtehude
ALBUM TITLE: Buxtehude
WORKS: Trio Sonatas, Op. 1
PERFORMER: Arcangelo: Sophie Gent (violin), Jonathan Manson (viola da gamba), Thomas Dunford (lute), Jonathan Cohen (harpsichord, direction)


‘The most free and unrestrained manner of composing… that one can imagine,’ wrote theorist Johann Mattheson of Dietrich Buxtehude’s 1692 Op. 1 Trio Sonatas. The Hamburgian combination of violin, obbligato viola da gamba, and harpsichord certainly gave the seasoned Marienkirche organist an opportunity to push the conventions of sonata writing for his Lübeck Abendmusiken audiences. The multi-sectional trios ingeniously pit strict counterpoint against the theatrical stylus fantasticus, a battle of wits brilliantly engaged by Arcangelo.

This exquisitely balanced recording instantly captures the sense of conversation between the instrumental parts, highlighting the egalitarian approach of Buxtehude’s melodic writing. What’s more, the content of these conversations allows us to glimpse the composer’s esteemed artistic stature in miniature. The rapid-fire twists and turns, from Corellian-style vivaces and extended Germanic fugal subjects to luscious French harmonies and dramatic Handelian quasi-recitatives are handled deftly and without a hint of freneticism by these four musicians. Amid jesting, dancing, meditating and philosophising they turn a whimsical phrase with spacious poise, ornament a melody liberally but with elegance, bite at the depth of a dissonance, and captivate with an enviable dynamic range. 

Mattheson concluded that Op. 1 had the ‘intent to please, to overtake and to astonish’, and that’s the lasting impression of Arcangelo’s performance – not only leaving you wanting more but lamenting the loss of so many of Buxtehude’s works. The key structure of a second surviving set (Op. 2, 1696) suggests the two collections were conceived as a whole – let’s hope a sequel is due.

Hannah French


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