PERFECTION IN MUSIC BRINGS US NEAR TO THE INIFINITE!
Since 1987, beginning with Ton Koopman's excellent performance of 'Membra Jesu Nostri', I have listened to many and varied executions of this inspirational composition by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707), so I did not expect this recording to be especially unique. But what a surprise hearing this intensely moving and powerful presentation by a talented group of Early Music specialists! The sense of ensemble throughout the entire performance is amazing. It is an amalgamation, a perfect fusion that is quite extraordinary bringing forth the contemplative and penitential nature of these stirring cantatas.
'Membra Jesu Nostri' (the limbs of our Lord Jesus) a cycle of seven cantatas, similar in design, are meditations upon the crucified body of our Lord Jesus Christ: AD PEDES(to the feet), AD GENUA(to the knees), AD MANUS(to the hands), AD LATUS(to the side), AD PECTUS (to the breast), AD COR(to the heart), AD FACIEM (to the face). The visual perspective is from that of a penitent kneeling at the foot of the cross whose gaze goes upward as he meditates on each part of the body in turn (Note the cover art.) In addition, there is a definite symbolic relationship between the key of each cantata to the penitent; as the gaze moves upward the key moves from flats to sharps, from C minor to E minor, before finally returning to the opening key, producing a beautifully unified cycle. (How appropriate then is this very unified performance!)
Biblical passages are set for the whole ensemble and enclose stanzas from the medieval poem 'Rhythmical Oratio', that are set as arias for small vocal groups and/or soloists, and interspersed with instrumental interludes. Each cantata begins with a biblical quotation that relates to what follows: EXAMPLE To the feet, "Behold upon the mountains the feet of Him who bringeth good news and announceth peace."
The cantata cycle is complimented by Matthias Weckmann (c1616-1674) 'Kommet her zu alle', a setting of the words from St. Matthew's Gospel(11:28-30), in which the composer gives the words of Jesus to a virtuoso bass; in this case Peter Harvey who sings this with power in a wonderfully resonant syle. Also included is Buxtehude's "Laudate, pueri, Dominum"(Praise Ye the Lord), featuring the two sopranos Emma Kirkby and Elin Manahan Thomas who more than do it justice!.
The team of Kirkby, Chance, Daniels and Harvey along with the Purcell Quartet have performed for many years together, and it shows in their perfectly attuned delivery. On this recording we have the added talents of Manahan and the very fine viol Consort Fretwork. An additional plus is the fact that all the ensemble parts are sung by the soloists; no chorus per se. These cantatas represent the peak of seventeenth century northern German vocal music. Buxtehude with a genius comparable to that of Bach fifty years later, summarizes and carries to perfection the spirit of his time.
The forty-three page booklet is wonderfully detailed as to the outline of the text, so you always know what voice is singing at a particular time. I found this to be an immeasureable assist in the overall understanding and enjoyment of this work. Language: English, German, French and Latin.