Buxtehude: Sonatas, Op. 1

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COMPOSERS: Buxtehude
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Sonatas, Op. 1
PERFORMER: Elizabeth Wallfisch (violin), Richard Tunnicliffe (cello), Paul Nicholson (harpsichord)
The seven sonatas printed in 1694 as Buxtehude’s Op. 1 are pieces which possess great individuality. The stylus phantasticus, or improvisatory style discussed by theorists of the time, and linked by some to the Lydian mode in Greek musical theory, can be felt throughout these works. It allowed Buxtehude a freedom from more formal constraints to express himself with intensity, virtuosity and occasional unorthodoxy.


Such qualities are well understood by the members of Convivium, who breathe life into these highly imaginative Sonatas, whose derivation from the older canzona is, above all, apparent in their multi-sectional layout. But, while I enjoyed this invigorating playing I regretted the substitution of a cello for Buxtehude’s unequivocally specified viola da gamba. I am not just pursuing a point of correctness, but rather defending the distinctive timbre of the gamba which is preferred in both of the current rival recordings (Harmonia Mundi and Marco Polo). Some readers may be less bothered about such things than others, and there is certainly little cause elsewhere to diminish the excellence of these performances. But my first recommendation remains with the Harmonia Mundi disc (HMC 901746). Nicholas Anderson