Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Membra Jesu Nostri (BuxWV 75) [59:09]
Vox Scaniensis/Peter Wallin
rec. 1-4 May 2013, Eslöv Church
LAWO LWM010 [59:09]

Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri Patientis Sanctissima is subtitled “a cycle of cantatas on the Holy limbs of the suffering Jesus Christ” in this booklet, which further informs us that the texts are ascribed to Bernard of Clairvaux (c. 1090-1153). “The text forms an account of the crucified limbs of Christ (feet, knees, hands, side, chest, heart and face) and its sensitive style relates strongly to sixteenth and seventeenth century Pietism, the central focus of which is emotion and passionate expression.” These texts are given in full and translated into English in the booklet.

This recording is beautifully balanced, set in a generous but not overly vast acoustic, and performed with sublime musicality. There are numerous recordings of this work now available, and I last encountered Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri in Sigiswald Kuijken’s recording with La Petite Bande on the Accent label (review). This is a translucent and lighter-textured performance than some, but is striking for the intimacy of its single-voice performance. Vox Scaniensis is also a one-voice-to-a-part performance, but gives a more extrovert, expansive impression. Both performances allow a natural vibrato in the voices, but Kuijken maintains quite a restrained, chamber-music feel even where all of the voices are in full flow. Peter Wallin seeks and achieves more of a ‘public performance’ feel which raises the bar on dynamics and enhances the sense of drama.

There are more of these kinds of well-prepared recordings around. The Genuin label has a gorgeous sounding recording with Musica Lingua, Cantus Cölln with Konrad Junghänel on the Harmonia Mundi label is also good, going for more overtly dramatic content in their vocal interpretations. The list could go on, but the advice is to sample where you can to find out which version might speak to you the most.

I very much like this Vox Scaniensis performance for the sustained beauty of sections such as the ‘Quid Sunt Plagae Ista’ (track 14) that keep vibrato in reserve for that extra level of expression, and revel in Buxtehude’s dissonances without over-egging the pudding. This is just one of many highlights in a performance that holds contrast and expression very much on that fine line between too much reserve and impressive but ultimately annoying operatic indulgence. Intonation is very good indeed in this performance, and this is a big factor in its generous scale of sound. The lack of extras might be a small disadvantage, but the more I listened the more I delighted in this recording, and as far as I am concerned it comes very close to being at the top of an increasingly tall and wobbly pile of sacred Membrae.

Dominy Clements

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