Dieterich BUXTEHUDE. Early Organ Works (Codex E.B. 1688)—Harald Vogel, organ—Musikproducktion Dabringhaus und Grimm 314292-2—74:00, ****

Buxtehude has become important, historically, for his connection to a younger Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach left his post, supposedly on foot, to see Buxtehude; as the story goes, at least according to his employer, Bach overstayed his visit. As a composer of church music, and as a virtuoso organist, it might be easy to envision why Bach made the pilgrimage to study with Buxtehude in Lübeck. As I have gotten to know his work, he deservedly should be known on the merit of his own music, and not not simply as a footnote in the history of Bach.

What makes this recording interesting is that it is has been recorded on instruments known to and connected with Buxtehude. Fourteen tracks are included, including ten from a manuscript from Dresden of the composer’s earliest works. The recordings are a compilation from Vogel’s complete traversal of Buxtehude’s organ works and was recorded from 1986-2018. The liner notes include images of the nine different organs used and information about their configurations.

Sonically, the album does well at capturing the aural flavor of each instrument in addition to the acoustical properties of each church. To my ears, it was impossible to discern the age from among the recordings different tracks.

The titles of pieces mirror those used by Bach: preludes, fugues, canon, and toccata. In a work such as the Praeludium Ex G, BuxWV 148, the style is less familiar to those conversant with Bach’s oeuvre, but instead is a series of tableau, in the fantasticus style. The piece reveals Buxtehude’s art in counterpoint, with his ability to take a theme and interweave it among the different voices.

Portrait of Dietrich Buxtehude playing VIol, by Johannes Voorhout

Dietrich Buxtehude playing VIol,
by Johannes Voorhout

The Fuga Ex B, BuxWV 176, is a less formal work, compared to the Praeludium, however it no less showcases his work as a contrapuntist. His fugue for manuals adopts a rather florid theme. Episodes emerge with different tempi and flavors, highlighting again his adoption of contrasting sections.

The Sonata Ex D für viola da gamba und basso continuo, BuxWV Anh. 5, is believed to be an arrangement of a piece by Bertali. Liner notes with the recording portray a historical basis for pairing viola da gamba with organ, especially for communion activities. The piece is episodic and is interesting for its interplay between the two instruments and its harmonic shifts (the first appears just after 2:08).

A “Toccata” is a piece to warm up the fingers. The one included in this recording, BuxWV 155, contains an opening that might be mistaken for something by Bach. Vogel employs an “open” registration to start on the organ from Norden. Contrasting sections vary with stop registration. The inner sections rely again upon counterpoint, with themes appearing among all the voices before a new section takes over. This piece in particular showcases the myriad different sounds an organ from the period was capable of producing.

In total, Vogel’s tempos and registration decisions are well-chosen to fit the character of each piece. As a recital, this album showcases the color and inventive ideas of a young Buxtehude. The opportunity to hear the pieces on historic organs, using different tuning schemes between them, highlights the diversity of organ building in northern Europe from the period.

While this recording delivers on strength of performance, a clear sound, and the value of using historic organs, the music may not represent Buxtehude’s best-known efforts as a composer of organ, instrumental, and vocal music. It will be of primary interest to those supplanting a collection or who do not already own Vogel’s complete collection of Buxtehude’s organ works.

— Sebastian Herrera

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