Dietrich Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri, BuxWV 75 ("The Body Parts of Our Jesus"), can be sung by a choir and soloists, but the case for the one-voice-per-part performance heard here is unusually strong, and most of the available versions feature a "chorus" consisting merely of the four soloists together. It is not known for what occasion Buxtehude intended the music, but it has no liturgical use; it consists of a group of poetic meditations, with relevant biblical verses interpolated, on (in order) Christ's feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart, and face. This intrinsically philosophical concept seems intended for the contemplation of a small group of musicians and listeners. It also invites a kind of graphic emotion, which this group of English musicians largely avoids. Compare a bit of this recording with the more emotionally intense reading by Konrad Junghänel's Cantus Cölln group to see which you prefer. The work's modest dimensions flatter the voice of veteran soprano Emma Kirkby, but it is the rich countertenor of Michael Chance that stands out among the singers. An unusual feature of the performance is the mixed group of strings, with violins on top, from the Purcell Quartet, and old-style viols on the bottom from the ensemble Fretwork; the combination may or may not be historically justifiable, but the viols darken the sound in an attractive way and work well in the resonant acoustic of London's St-Jude-on-the-Hill church. The booklet is superior, with full translations from Latin into English, German, and French. Not the only choice for this fascinating piece, but worth consideration for those favoring a soberer approach.
Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri Review
by James Manheim