Buxtehude: Trio Sonatas Op.2

Buxtehude: Trio Sonatas Op.2
Arcangelo
Alpha Classics ALPHA738. 71’25

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This is the second recording of Buxtehude Trio Sonatas from Arcangelo (Sophie Gent, Jonathan Manson, Thomas Dunford and Jonathan Cohen). Their early Opus 1 disc is on ALPHA 367. The second set of Trio Sonatas was published in 1696. As with the first, it demonstrates the wide range of international influences in Lübeck at the time.

Buxtehude was organist Lübeck’s prestigious Marienkirche, where his memorial is something of a pilgrimage site for organists as (in pre-memorial days) was the church for the young Bach and his famous visit to hear the ageing Buxtehude. Best known today to organists, his vocal and instrumental music reveal an astonishing world of the most exciting music, fully absorbing the distinctive and important stylus phantasticus with its rapidly changing moods in single-movement, but multi-sectional pieces.

Arcangelo’s interpretations are very effective in their negotiating of the twists and turns of Buxtehude’s sometimes seemingly anarchic musical moods. Although the sections are clearly delineated they manage to retain the essential flow of the music without adding unnecessary pauses. The principal soloists, Sophie Gent, Jonathan Manson on violin and gamba, are eloquent in their musical lines, and bounce off each other well in the two and fro of the music.

My only quibble with their interpretation is the rather intrusive and occasionally frenetic continuo realisations from the theorbo and, less frequently, the harpsichord. These are, by definition, trio sonatas, so I think that suggests that the natural wish of a fourth instrument to add their own melodic line to the three that Buxtehude provided is something to be avoided. In any case, in these Sonatas, Buxtehude strongly favours the two melodic lines of the violin and viola da gamba, with the continuo bass line often doing little more than following the gamba. Without a string bass to reinforce the harpsichord’s bass line, the added theorbo is needed, but should, I suggest do little more than reinforce the continuo chords of the harpsichord.

There are several recordings of these Sonatas out there to compare this with, but whichever you choose, do listen to Buxtehude’s outstanding music.