Buxtehude: Membra Jesu/Les Voix Baroques

Review by: David Vernier

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 10

Buxtehude’s cycle of seven “cantatas”, each contemplating a specific part of Christ’s crucified body (feet, hands, heart, etc.), has enjoyed excellent treatment in the CD catalog, with two first-rate recordings, from Harmonia Mundi and Channel Classics, appearing at virtually the same time last year (type Q9931 and Q9932 in Search Reviews)–and now this one joins them. [For a description of the work itself, please read the review of the Harmonia Mundi recording –Q9931.] Here we have yet another very well-matched group of singers who have mastered both the expressive character of the solos and the uniform articulation and phrasing required of the ensemble passages, all of which is nicely coordinated with their expert instrumental partners (not such an easy task in this music!). Alto Matthew White is a memorable presence, particularly for his lovely solo in Cantata V (“Ad pectus”) and for the pleasingly bright color he brings to his ensemble singing with bass and tenor in the same cantata.

Overall the three recordings are more similar than different–the Channel Classics has the sonic edge and the more “dramatic” approach to the texts; the Harmonia Mundi has the best group of singers and the more contemplative atmosphere. Also, while the Channel Classics and HM programs offer short additional Buxtehude works to fill out their CDs, this one includes only the Membra Jesu Nostri. But the most significant difference, and the one that primarily sets this new recording from Les Voix Baroques apart from the others, is the choice of tempos, which are decidedly more brisk except notably–and properly–in the “Ad manus” cantata, where the question “What are these wounds in the midst of thy hands?” is addressed with sharply dissonant harmonies from the voices, harmonies that lose their effect if rushed.

Although the tempos here generally work well–you wouldn’t really notice unless you compared this version with others–I did wish for a slightly slower pace and more sombre tone for “Ad cor” (to the heart). However personal such a quibble may be, it’s otherwise difficult to find anything but praise for these performances–and for sound that’s exceptionally clear and vibrant and well-balanced among voices and instruments. In this “Buxtehude year”–the 300th anniversary of his death–the expected organ recordings have been abundant, but to also be reminded so impressively of this composer’s significant contributions to the development of the German cantata has been an additional–and unexpected–pleasure. Highly recommended!



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Cantus Cölln (HM), Netherlands Bach Society (Channel), This one

DIETRICH BUXTEHUDE - Membra Jesu Nostri

  • Suzie LeBlanc, Catherine Webster (soprano)
    Matthew White (alto)
    Pascal Charbonneau (tenor)
    Thomas Meglioranza (bass)
  • Les Voix Baroques

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