WORKS: More Palatino, BuxWV 247; La capricciosa, BuxWV 250; Suite in G minor; Suite in E minor; Suite in A; Suite in F
PERFORMER: Lars Ulrik Mortensen (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.224117, 8.224118
Buxtehude’s reputation rests on organ music and cantatas, mostly written when he was organist at St Mary’s Church, Lübeck (where Bach studied with him for three months). But a single secular manuscript exists, containing 19 suites and six sets of variations, ascribed – some wrongly – to Buxtehude.
The Suites are in four movements, courantes composed as subtle variations on their preceding allemandes – the pairs make fascinating listening. Buxtehude’s variation process is highly inventive. It reaches its apotheosis in La capricciosa, imaginative contrasts of figuration and dance rhythms through 32 ‘Partitas’ matching, in scale if not in contrapuntal demands, Bach’s Goldberg Variations. (Bach’s light-hearted final quodlibet incorporates Buxtehude’s melody – by chance? Perhaps.) Mortensen also trespasses on preserves normally claimed by organists. The transfer to harpsichord is most convincing – the crashing chords which end the C major Fugue, BuxWV 174, have always struck me as foreign to the North German organ style.
Mortensen is an exemplary technician and an inspirational player, if occasionally (in the variations which open Vol. 2) bending rhythms in a rather overly predictable see-saw fashion. He plays a copy of a Ruckers harpsichord, admirably recorded – mechanical clatter subdued, without losing intimacy and the vivid colours so essential to the variations. George Pratt