WORKS: Seven Sonatas, Op. 1
PERFORMER: The Purcell Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0766
Buxtehude’s Seven Sonatas, Op. 1 for violin, bass viol and harpsichord appeared in the 1690s, inspired by earlier Italian models but expressed with a distinctly northern accent. They are essentially duo sonatas for three instrumentalists, played here by The Purcell Quartet. (Confused yet?) Buxtehude’s background as a church organist and celebrated improviser (Bach walked 200 miles to hear him) is everywhere apparent, as his contrapuntal textures and discursive fugal writing contrast with improvisatory riffs and mercurial changes of tempo.
The Purcell Quartet gives amiable performances, eschewing flamboyant gestures or expressive excess in favour of a convivial musical discourse. The detailed yet airy recording sets us in the salon, among friends. Fugal movements are politely worked out; dances are discreetly elegant; ensemble is taught.
Their approach is cautious and, at moments when scaling the heights, the violin sounds nervous, edgy, though for the most part this is finely controlled playing. For an alternative in a resonant, churchy acoustic, consider Linden, Holloway and Mortensen on Naxos; while those who want more fire to Buxtehude’s stylus phantasticus should try Manfred Kramer et al on Harmonia Mundi. Kate Bolton