Veteran Dutch historical-performance specialist Ton Koopman has set himself the task in his seventh decade of recording the complete compositional output of Dietrich Buxtehude. He was, in fact, elected president of the International Dietrich Buxtehude Society. Some of these recordings have been of keyboard works, but Koopman, here and elsewhere, has also led small-ensemble works from the keyboard, covering an almost completely unknown repertoire. Here he offers a set of eight unpublished sonatas for from one to three stringed instruments -- not only violin and viola da gamba, but also the older violone -- and basso continuo. The music is presented in a rather dry way in the booklet (in English, German, and French), but it's quite lovely, with a kind of quiet introspection that often appears in Buxtehude's music and clearly sets it apart from Bach, even though the older composer's influence is manifest in that of Bach's early years. The sonatas appeared in the 1690s, just before the clearly structured Corelli type of trio sonata made its way to northern Germany; they reflect the older type of Italian sonata, with a profusion of very short sections in different tempi fused together to make a longer piece. They often begin with subdued slow sections with free, recitative-like material from the violin or other top melody instruments, and follow with spontaneous-sounding figuration in the faster sections; in a few places (try the short Sonata in D minor for violin, viola, and basso continuo, BuxWV Anh. 5, about a minute in) he is harmonically quite daring. Koopman accompanies on harpsichord and organ. The performances by violinists Catherine Manson and David Rabinovich are superb, with a fine sense of the fantastic elements in Buxtehude's music, but the same can't be said of the engineering; the church sound is too live and cavernous for music that was written for small spaces and small groups of connoisseurs. This music doesn't have the intensity of Buxtehude's vocal cantatas, but it's quite enjoyable and colorful for fans of the mid-Baroque period, and it doesn't sound quite like any other Baroque chamber music available.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim