Buxtehude: Organ works

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COMPOSERS: Buxtehude
LABELS: Cantoris
WORKS: Organ works
PERFORMER: Gerald Gifford (organ)
Here are three different nations’ contributions to the Buxtehude discography, and each has something to offer. First off is Gifford at Robinson College, Cambridge. His playing is never po-faced and cuts a dashing figure in the faster pieces. His Prelude and Fugue in D (also given by Ellenberger) whips along like there is no tomorrow, and enchants with its kaleidoscopic stop-changes. The only regret is that the organ is equally tempered, so that the astonishing chromatics appear emasculated rather than howling their threnodic cry at us. The organ used by Varlet, on the other hand, lacks nothing in personality. The plenum has a multi-dimensional immediacy that is put to good use in the Praeludium in C and the Bach works, and the performance launches many a rhetorical sky-rocket. The quieter Chorale Preludes might have benefited from a greater sense of intimacy, and the chiff on the flutes is so pronounced it could blow out candles (in fact the first part of the Bach Pièce d’orgue sounds uncannily like a manic marimba player has got into the building). That said, it is certainly characterful and engaging playing. Ellenberger’s reading is the most measured of the three, less concerned with rhythmic vitality than small-scale moulding of phrases. The playing sounds thoughtful, if occasionally ponderous. Janke’s new organ is a mixed blessing, with a honking pedal reed which tends to obliterate, and some coyly pleasing quieter stops. Though it is a highly commendable project, it would be nice to hear more energetic playing as this Naxos Buxtehude series progresses. William Whitehead