The Lübecker Abendmusik named in the title of this disc was a concert series, held in the Marienkirche, backed by the merchants of the prosperous north German city of Lübeck in the late seventeenth century, and furnished with music by Buxtehude, and before him Franz Tunder. Buxtehude apparently also wrote some full-scale oratorios for these events, but they have been lost. The music, particularly associated with Advent, thus was extraliturgical and has an interesting, crowd-pleasing dimension. The seven pieces here could be called sacred cantatas like those of Bach; they are multisectional works, between seven and 14 minutes long, for chorus, soloists, and instrumental ensemble. Yet they have a festive atmosphere unlike that of most of Bach's cantatas, and they are not based on chorales. Most striking is the variety of instruments: in some of the cantatas (such as Wie wird erneuet, wie wird erfreuet, BuxWV 110, track 3) a large brass section of cornetts, trumpets, and trombones is augmented by the exotic buzzing of one or two dulcians. These alternate on disc with smaller pieces accompanied by strings. Especially impressive is the opening Benedicam Dominum, BuxWV 113, which has the full complement of brasses (and dulcian), contains polychoral effects, and opens in Latin before switching to German for the first solo, as if to bring home the meaning to the audience. These pieces deserve wider exposure, and any recording of them is welcome. Conductor Roland Wilson forges a restrained reading that leaves room for others with more splendor but does reveal all the details of the music. His choir of 10 is not overwhelmed by the brasses, but that may be because they are kept relatively quiet. The soloists take an intimate tone that seems wrong for the music; in the larger pieces they have the effect of floating off in the spaces of the church somewhere. If one might wish for performances with more of a public feel to match the nature of the event Buxtehude was writing for, it is nevertheless good to have any recordings of these magnificent works at all.
Dietrich Buxtehude: Eine Lübecker Abendmusik Review
by James Manheim