Membra Jesu nostri
The Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge; Orpheus Britannicus; Newe Vialles/Andrew Arthur
Resonus RES10238 70:17 mins
If we didn’t know differently it would be pardonable to suppose that Buxtehude’s seven-cantata cycle was the product of a fervent southern Catholicism more suited to Spain than Stockholm (for which city it was possibly commissioned). The idea of seven meditations each focusing graphically on a corporeal aspect of the crucified Christ suggests something distant from the Lutheran mind-set; something wreathed in incense, lit by guttering candles and illustrated by El Greco. Yet the language has much in common with some of the poetic texts Bach set; and, from the first notes, the music speaks resolutely of North Germany (albeit as Andrew Arthur’s spacious direction underlines, with incursions from Italy). And there’s another paradox too. For just as a contemplation of the nailed hands, the pierced side, the spittle-flecked face might suppose a music suffused with grief and penitence, more often than not, breast-beating yields to a sense of joy and optimism born of the promise of salvation incarnate in the chosen images.
To these paradoxes this latest recording adds another. For whether you incline to the one-to-a-part blueprint favoured by The Sixteen and Cantus Cölln (whose cultivated German-style Latin adds illuminating piquancy), or the chamber choir readings of Gardiner or Koopman, the collegiate blend of the Trinity Hall Choir, seductive and ravishing as it is, adds a plush Anglican gloss that sometimes works against the edgy grain of the always-compelling instrumental contributions from Newe Vialles and Orpheus Britannicus – the latter’s vocal consort eloquently shouldering the arias’ various solos and expressively calculated ensembles.