Another hyperbole, perhaps, but Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) comes as close to deserving that acclaim as anyone. Buxtehude was Danish by language though probably Swedish by birth, but spent the forty most important years of his life in Lübeck, then a wealthy Hanseatic trading port. Buxtehude's official post, from 1668, was at the Marienkirche in Lübeck where he succeeded Franz Tunder as organist, following in the footsteps of his predecessor in proper apprenticeship. He even married Tunder's daughter Anna Margarethe. Buxtehude's father, also an organist, joined the family in Lübeck in 1673 but died just a year later. Buxtehude's post in the free Imperial city of Lübeck afforded him considerable flexibility in his musical career, and his autonomy was a model for the careers of later Baroque masters such as George Frideric Handel, Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Sebastian Bach, all of whom organized musical occasions for public pleasure and private profit. In 1673 he organized a series of evening musical performances, known as Abendmusik, which attracted musicians from diverse places and remained a feature of the church until 1810. In fact, Franz Tunder had attempted the same feat of producing open concert for the public, but Buxtehude's were far more successful, being financed by donations from the city's leading businessmen. The Abendmusik concerts include vocal and instrumental music, and were presented annually on the five Sundays preceding Christmas. The "Dixit Dominus" that opens this CD performance was composed, not for liturgical use in any church, but for one of Buxtehude's Abendmusik events. It's a showy, spirited piece, well suited for the confident public of North Germany in the decades of economic recovery from the Thirty Years War. the other Buxtehude composition on this CD is of a more affective profundity; "Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin" was Buxtehude's 'requiem' for his beloved father, composed in the year of the father's death. The piece begins with a simple tenor declamation of the well-known Lutheran chorale "With Peace and Joy I Go My Way"; that's followed by an elaborate setting of Buxtehude's own three-stanza poem lamenting his 'loss' of his truest friend and teacher, his father. It's an extraordinarily "personal" poem supported by complex instrumental polyphony of intense musical poignancy.
Nikolaus Bruhns ( (1665-1697) became Buxtehude's pupil at age fifteen. The music he wrote in his short life ranks among the finest in craftsmanship of the era. This CD includes his Prelude anf Fugue in e-moll for organ, played by David Van Bouwel on the restored pre-baroque organ of the church of Mariendrebber, an extremely appropriate choice for the music. Bruhns was less devoutly committed to the unique North German styles of Buxtehude; his Italianate setting of "Jachzet dem Herren" requires a more athletic vocal technique than most German composers would have approved of before Bach.
This recording also presents four eloquent psalm settings by lesser-known North german composers --Johann Förtsch, Julius Wieland, Christoph Bernhard, and Johann Sommer -- and three sumptuous instrumental canzonas by Samuel Scheidt, Matthias Weckmann, and Johann Sommer. Hans Jörg Mammel is the single singer heard in this performance, but with artistry like his no other voice is needed. The instrumental ensemble - La Fenice - is conducted with finesse by Jean Tubery; it includes two cornettos - Tubery himself and Gebhard David - bassoon, bass gamba, cello, theorbo, organ/harpsichord, and two violins. It's hard to conceive, listening to Tubery's lush timbres and astounding digital virtuosity, why the cornetto could have been so near the end of its reign as the 'lead instrument' in Baroque vocal-instrumental compositions.
Obscure as these North German composers have become to modern audiences, they were representative of a highly sophisticated and inspired musical milieu, and their works are better than mere historical curiosities. Of course, excellent performances like this one can make even modest compositions sound like immortal masterworks.