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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger


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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)

  1. Praeludium in F sharp minor, BuxWv 146
  2. Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BuxWv 180
  3. Der Tag der ist so freudenreich, BuxWv 182
  4. Ciacona in C minor, BuxWv 159
  5. Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BuxWv 184
  6. Erhalt uns Herr bei deinem Wort, BuxWv 185
  7. Te Deum laudamus, BuxWv 218
  8. Praeludium
  9. Te deum laudamus
  10. Pleni sunt coeli et terra
  11. Te Martyrium
  12. Tu devicto
  13. Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt, BuxWv 183
  14. Passacaglia in D minor, BuxWv 161
  15. Es ist das Heil uns kommen her, BuxWv 186
  16. Praeludium in E minor, BuxWv 142
Wolfgang Rübsam, organ Rec. Brombaugh Organ, Central Lutheran Church, Eugene, Oregon, March 2002 Buxtehude Organ Music, Volume 3
NAXOS 8.555991


Comparison: René Saorgin/Harmonia Mundi

Dietrich Buxtehude represents the pinnacle of the "Stylus Phantasticus" movement that had its origins with the music of early 17th century composers such as Matthias Weckmann and Heinrich Scheidemann. Essentially, this movement entailed the blossoming of freedom and flexibility in the structuring of compositions.

In the area of Baroque organ music, only Johann Sebastian Bach surpasses Buxtehude. He has left us a wonderful legacy of organ music ranging from the setting of Chorales through the variations of a Ciacona or Passacaglia to the flight, energy, variety and expressive freedom of the Praeludium.

Although there are many Buxtehude organ recordings on the market, most of them never see the light of day in your typical record store. I suppose the reason has to do with the thinking that organ music of the Baroque period, prior to Bach, is overly severe and somber. Since this seems to be a premise that won’t recede, those wanting Buxtehude organ discs must deal directly with applicable record companies or purchase on the Internet.

Naxos has been embarked on a complete cycle of the Buxtehude organ works and finally has released Volume 3 performed by Wolfgang Rübsam who has been one of our most esteemed Baroque organists for the last thirty years. Rübsam’s crowning glory on record is the complete cycle of Bach organ music, also on Naxos. That is a compelling series as Rübsam offers highly distinctive and incisive interpretations loaded with sharp contours and strong punctuation. Given his approach to Bach, it would appear that the music of Buxtehude would be second nature to Rübsam.

I will often be mentioning the René Saorgin complete box set of Buxtehude’s organ music. This is excellent and is played on historical Schnitger and Silbermann organs. The 1976 Brombaugh organ used by Rübsam has fine tone and detail, but it can’t match the sweetness of the historical organs. As I have commented in previous reviews of Baroque organ music, the sweetness of the organ is a significant factor in providing contrast with the inherent severity of the music.

Although the sound on the new Naxos offering is certainly adequate, there is a rather excessive amount of air to contend with, and the soundstage tends to encompass only the areas toward the center. The result of these two features is reduced incisiveness and foundation. Generally not debilitating, I do find the sound characteristics to detract from Rübsam’s performances.

As for the performances themselves, Rübsam gives us one of the better Buxtehude organ recitals on record. Yet, I miss the all-consuming power, purpose and severity he invests in his Bach series. Whether or not one agrees with Rübsam’s approach to Bach, it surely stands out in the crowd. Such is not the case with his Buxtehude interpretations.

Here are a few highlights of my journey through the disc:

Praeludium in F sharp minor – A Buxtehude Praeludium is the perfect example of the height of the "Stylus Phantasticus" approach to music. In the F sharp minor, Buxtehude starts us off with a strong and angular toccata-like section followed by a chordal section of intense gravity. Two Fugues then appear, the first marked "grave", the second marked "vivace". The work ends with an extended free section giving the organist another opportunity to convey power, improvisation, and edge.

Rübsam delivers a finely honed performance with plenty of edge, strength, and rhythmic appeal. The only significant difference with the Saorgin version is that Rübsam is much slower in the two Fugues, and the "grave" section definitely benefits from the more reflective and slower treatment.

"Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam" – Rübsam loses me on this one with a thoroughly drab performance. Much of the problem is likely due to the diffuse sound I mentioned above; the music simply has no foundation, and therefore, no gravity. Switch to Saorgin and the music has weight and conveys deep despair. Take away the despair, and this Chorale has little to offer. Rübsam exacerbates the effect with rather discrete registrations, and I end up very disappointed.

"Der Tag der ist so freudenreich" – Rübsam rebounds beautifully with this uplifting music. As usual, he employs a slower tempo than Rogg, and it again is beneficial. The Chorale’s title translates into "The day that is so joyful", and Rogg is so quick that he sounds as if he’d like the day to hurry up. In contrast, Rübsam savors the music while also giving it a lightness that is very refreshing. Exceptionally done.

"Te Deum laudüamus" – This five movement work consists of a Praeludium and four verses. The first verse, "Te deum laudamus" is my favorite piece on the disc and begins with twisting notes and phrasing which eventually are taken over by a chordal section emphasizing the long lines of the tremendous bass accompaniment. Rübsam is in his element here, as nobody twists phrasing as expertly or highlights the heroic severity of the chordal music with such great sweep.

In conclusion, the new Rübsam disc deserves a strong recommendation, but the performances do not have the visceral impact Rübsam invests in his Bach recordings. A less than ideal organ and soundstage also hold the recording back from being one of the exceptional Buxtehude organ discs. Between Rübsam and Saorgin, I have to side with Saorgin. The performances are roughly equal in quality, but the engineering and choice of organs are in Saorgin’s favor.

Don Satz

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