Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Cycle Is Now Complete

Buxtehude and the Schnitger Organ
Hans Davidsson
Loft Recordings, LRCD 1094-1096


Well, it took two years, but Loft Recordings has at last released the third and final volume of Hans Davidsson's complete survey of the organ works of Dietrich Buxtehude.

I was quite unbounded in my enthusiasm for the first two releases (here and here), and this three-disc set completes the series.

This release is again recorded on the magnificent GOArt organ at Göteborg University in Sweden. This instrument, which dates from 2000, was specifically constructed as a recreation of the state of the organ-building art for the late 17th Century, an instrument that would seem familiar and contemporary to Buxtehude himself. In addition to the appropriate acoustic--in terms of room size and material composition--the organ was designed and constructed with the limitations and preferences that existed at the time, including the use of quarter-comma meantone (of which a bit more is mentioned in my first review of this cycle, which happens to be of Volume Two). All of the glories and successes of the earlier releases are once again on display here, and this issue becomes a must-have if you've enjoyed the earlier releases.

The titles of the CDs give a subtle and specific focus to each release. The first release--Buxtehude and the Meantone Organ--emphasizes the revelation that awaits us to hear these compositions on a period-correct tuning scheme. This is no small task, as the employment of quarter-comma meantone requires a dedicated keyboard and pipe layout--indeed it fundamentally alters the entire instrument mechanically. But it's a sacrifice that yields an ample payoff, as this series readily demonstrates.

The second release--The Bach Connection--emphasizes the connection between the elder Buxtehude and the young Bach; the pieces give us a glimpse of what spurred Bach to make his famous trek to Lübeck in 1705/6. Buxtehude was the organ superstar of his day, and one can only imagine what Bach's fertile genius must have experienced in Buxtehude's presence (indeed, Bach was granted a two-week leave for the trek, but in the event was AWOL for four months. He returned to Arnstadt to find himself in very hot water indeed).

Now this third and final release shines light on the organ building genius of the time (and arguably one of the great geniuses of all time in this field), the German Arp Schnitger (1648-1719). Organ building reached a universally-acknowledged zenith under Schnitger (a convergence of music and instrument occurred at this time analogous to what was found in Paris two centuries later under Arisitide Cavaillé-Coll), and many of the principles he applied and perfected are still in use today. This GOArt organ is designed less as a direct copy of any specific Schnitger organ than as a faithful demonstration of the validity of his ideas in all facets.

I'm not quite knowledgeable enough about the pieces to know if the actual compositions were chosen for the theme of each CD release, or whether the CD titles are just intended to focus our attention on a different aspect of this convergence of talents and circumstances. But that magical convergence--of advanced and sophisticated musical language, brilliant composer and visionary organ builder--represented a rare nexus in musical history.

Here are three superb CD releases testifying to the fact.

No comments: