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Sacred Vocal Music - Released September 10, 2018 | Channel Classics Records

Hi-Res Booklet
The rediscovery of Dietrich Buxtehude, whom Bach walked across Germany to hear, continues to yield fascinating new masterpieces. Membra Jesu nostri (The Body Parts of Jesus), known only to a handful of specialists a decade ago, has attracted no fewer than three strong recordings from major early music ensembles: the Sixteen under Harry Christophers performs its framing ensemble sections with a small choir, while Konrad Jünghänel's Cantus Cölln and the present performance, by the Netherlands Bach Society under Jos van Veldhoven, simply join the four soloists together to form the chorus. Normally that's a questionable decision, but in this case it seems to work: this was experimental music, written for a small group of initiates and set down in a very odd tablature notation, a specimen of which is reproduced in the booklet for this disc. The Latin texts of these seven thematically linked cantatas, drawn from a medieval mystical poem, are devotions addressed to body parts of the crucified Christ: feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart, and face. These texts are sung by soloists, with a different soloist taking each verse in music that changes but remains harmonically consistent with the other verses. Buxtehude frames each text with a choral setting of a line from the Bible that refers to the same body part. He alters the mode of expression in these little framing choruses; some are direct and passionate, others coolly contrapuntal. And he finds other ways of varying what could be a tedious sequence of seven similar cantatas; the work reaches a climax in the sixth cantata, on the theme of the heart, where the alto, tenor, violins, and cellos drop out and throw the remaining forces -- soprano, bass, and a group of gambas -- into sharp relief. This extraordinary cantata suggests the confluence of sacred and secular love found in both the Latin poem and in the Song of Songs text Buxtehude chooses from the Bible to frame it, and the suggestion is made without the recourse to Italian operatic language found in Bach. The music as a whole is intimate, personal, and intensely devotional; it may well appeal strongly to those whose religious impulses are stimulated by close consideration of individual biblical passages. There is a dramatic quality that lurks in Buxtehude's vocal music, and the soloists here choose to bring it out even as they keep to a generally quiet level -- in this performance the music is a quietly impassioned, private prayer. The other available performances are a bit warmer. Preferences among the three may be individual, but the acoustics of this recording bring out its subtleties and its general hushed, intense mood. This disc is strongly recommended for anyone who loves the passionate yet concrete quality of Bach's smaller sacred pieces.