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Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Variations in C major, BUX WV 246 [13:58]
Suite in C major, BUX WV 230 [7:07]
Suite in A major, BUX WV 243 [8:01]
Suite in D minor, BUX WV 234 [10:50]
Variations in A minor, BUX WV 249 [7:24]
Suite in F major, BUX WV 239 [5:44]
Suite in G minor, BUX WV 242 [7:49]
Variations in G (La Capricciosa) [extracts], BUX WV 250 [17:20]
Colin Booth (harpsichord)

rec. Westbury Sub Mendip, May 2007


Experience Classicsonline

Only a relatively small quantity of Buxtehude’s writing for harpsichord survives, none of which was published during the composer’s lifetime. What we have amounts to some nineteen suites and some sets of variations. Much of what survives does so in a single manuscript, only rediscovered in 1939, a long-standing family possession of the postmaster of Nykøbing Falster in Denmark. The music was transcribed by the organist Emilius Bangert and first published in 1942. The manuscript is now in the Royal Library in Copenhagen. Since then, appreciation of Buxtehude’s achievement as a writer for the harpsichord – something for which discerning contemporaries praised him - has grown. There are fine recordings by, amongst others, Ton Koopman (on Challenge Records) and Lars Urik Mortensen (originally on Da Capo now being reissued on Naxos) – these are complete or on their way to completion.

On this present CD Colin Booth presents a selection of Buxtehude’s writing for the harpsichord, played on a copy of an instrument of 1681 by Jean-Antoine Vaudry of Paris. The original is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where it has been since 1975. It was ‘modernised’ in 1710 and probably again later in the Eighteenth Century: there is a fascinating – and well-illustrated – article by Derek Adlam (‘Restoring the Vaudry’) on the original instrument and its restoration after its purchase by the V and A (Early Music, 4:3, 1976, pp.255-65). The suitability of a French instrument may, I suppose, be debated, but there is little value in getting hung up on such issues. In any case, there are very few surviving German instruments of the period. The bottom end of Booth’s copy (made in 2005) of the Vaudry instrument is particularly pleasing and the sound as a whole is well nourished and clearly articulated.

Booth plays with lucidity and intelligence throughout. At its best his playing has a pleasing fluency, though just occasionally I find his playing a little on the stiff side rhythmically speaking. Much of the time, however, he articulates very attractively the quasi-improvisational quality of some of Buxtehude’s sarabandes and allemandes, with their broken chords. In Buxtehude’s suites the ensuing movements are, essentially, generated by the opening allemande; this is clearly the case in the very attractive Suite in F major, a piece full of dignified yet intimate music, exuding an air of thoughtful private music-making to which the listener has privileged access. Booth is heard at something like his best here. The suite in A major begins with a particularly lovely allemande, music with, as it were, a smile on its face; the courante which follows trips along very pleasantly and the closing sarabande and gigue keep up the prevailing good humour. There is, then, a good deal to enjoy here. But there is one major disappointment, one substantial fly in the ointment.

Buxtehude’s set of variations known as La Capriciossa is one of the major works in the period’s repertoire for harpsichord. Apart from its own substantial qualities, it is important historically. As Colin Booth reminds us in his booklet notes, it is probable that this, Buxtehude’s most substantial set of variations, was designed to rival (and surpass) his contemporary Reincken’s set of variations on ‘La Meyerin’ and was surely, in turn, an influence on the Goldberg Variations. It isn’t coincidence, surely, that there are the same number of variations in each and that each is in the key of G major. While Buxtehude’s work – unsurprisingly – won’t quite stand up to comparison with Bach’s – it is a very fine piece, full of sustained invention and technical skill. It deserves to be heard in full and the listener’s appreciation of it is much enhanced when it is so heard. It is, therefore very disappointing that Booth chooses to play only parts of the work (for the record, he includes the opening statement of the aria and the closing repeat, plus variations 1-3, 6-8, 10, 12-13, 15, 21, 23, 24, 26 and 29-32). Good as much of Booth’s playing is, this is an unpleasant truncation of a major work – a work which well sustains the listener’s interest at its full length of 30 minutes or so. I, at least, would have been content to sacrifice some of the other music on the disc for the sake of having a full performance of BUX WV 250.

In pretty well every other respect this is a thoroughly enjoyable programme.

Glyn Pursglove


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