Trio Sonatas, Op. 2
Thomas Dunford (lute); Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen
Alpha Classics ALPHA 738 71:25 mins
Buxtehude’s seven sonatas for violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord were published in 1696 as the composer’s Op. 2. A striking feature of the pieces is their improvisatory character, in which bold harmonies, startling tonal shifts and spontaneous gestures play their part. This inventive freedom gave rise to the term stylus phantasticus, whose Italian roots spread to Germany and Austria. Freedom of method, emphasis on harmonic ingenuity and formal elasticity determine the raison d’être of these sonatas.
Jonathan Cohen and his excellent Arcangelo ensemble have already recorded Buxtehude’s earlier set of trio sonatas, Op. 1 (ALPHA 367). Now, in their Op. 2 disc, they demonstrate their lively sense of the fantastic style, with intuitive responses to rapid rhythmic subtleties and the myriad compositional dexterities of these rewarding sonatas. Fugato, ostinato, variation – the appealing Sonata No. 5 in A major provides a fine example of these techniques – feature prominently, as these musicians seemingly revel in the sheer freshness of Buxtehude’s craft. Sophie Gent and Jonathan Manson engage in eloquent, communicatively punctuated dialogue. This conversational dimension is strong, as listeners will quickly discern in the Sonata No. 1 in B flat. The two melody instruments are well supported by a responsive continuo provided by Thomas Dunford (lute) and Jonathan Cohen (harpsichord).
These are pieces and performances to delight our senses. The music is full of surprises, with moments of serene beauty as in the brief Largo of the Sonata in D major. I hope Arcangelo will eventually issue the six Sonatas that remained unpublished during the composer’s lifetime. Nicholas Anderson