Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri

Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri
The Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Orpheus Britannicus, Newe Vialles, Andrew Arthur (director)
Resonus Classics RES10238. 70’17

Buxtehude’s cycle of seven cantatas, under the collective title of Membra Jesu nostri patientis sanctissima, is one of the finest sacred vocal works of the 17th-century. It reflects on The holy limbs of our suffering Jesus, using texts from the Medieval hymn Salve mundi salutare, probably written by Arnulf of Leuven (d1250). Each cantata focusses on a specific part of Christ’s crucified body: feet, knees, hands, sides, breast, heart, and face, adding to the hymn text words from the Bible. It is composed for five solo singers, who usually also make up a chorus although, in this case, the chorus is the 24-strong Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, conducted by Andrew Arthur, the Director of Music at Trinty Hall. They are accompanied by the College’s professional period ensemble Ensemble-in-Residence, Orpheus Britannicus (founded by Andrew Arthur), with the five viols of Newe Vialles (directed by Henrik Persson and Caroline Ritchie) playing for the sensuous sixth cantata, Ad cor (To The Heart).

The five soloists are listed as part of Orpheus Britannicus, rather than being drawn from the student choir. Two of the soloists are particularly effective, soprano Eloise Irving and the distinguished tenor Nicholas Mulroy, but I was surprised at the amount of uncontrolled vibrato from a couple of the other soloists. The student choir make a very effective and stable sound, although it took me a while to get used to such a full chorus when I have been used to a chorus of just the five soloists.

The instrumental accompaniment is particularly effective, not surprisingly as the players are well-known on the circuit. I am sure the student singers will have learnt a lot about period performance from their experience with this recording. More details and a link to the programme notes can be found here. As usual with Resonus productions, the programmes notes and booklet layout are excellent. The recording was made, not in Trinity Hall, but in the Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge, which provides an attractive acoustic bloom.