Organ music fans need no introduction to Harald Vogel, one of the world's foremost performers, teachers, and proponents of historical practice in North German organ playing. And listeners familiar with Dietrich Buxtehude probably know by now that this year (2007) marks the 300th anniversary of the composer's death. So it's not surprising that several record labels--including Naxos, DaCapo, and MDG--are paying special attention in surveys of Buxtehude's works, naturally focusing on the organ music (Naxos also includes chamber and vocal works in its series). Organ fans also will be aware that the seven discs in this current MDG set were recorded and released singly in the late-1980s/early-'90s (andRead more are still available in that form), but owning the complete set, especially as it has been packaged, makes a lot of sense. Not only can you pick and choose from dozens of pieces that show the complete range of Buxtehude's output, but you also can hear a wonderful variety of historic and carefully restored organs that were either played by Buxtehude or represent the authentic sound and specifications of North German and Scandinavian instruments of the composer's time. This means that we hear--in uniformly excellent sound--the Arp-Schnitger organs from such venues as Lübeck, Norden, Grasberg, Noordbroek, and Groningen, and instruments from other master builders, including Grotian, Richborn, and Hantelmann. Disc 7 is devoted to the great Arp-Schnitger instrument at the Hamburg Jacobikirche, which, like the Lübeck organ on Disc 1 was very likely played by Buxtehude.
And as is the case throughout these recordings, repertoire is carefully chosen for appropriateness to the organ's specifications and/or the music's stylistic context within Buxtehude's oeuvre. Tuning also is a significant issue, as these instruments exist in both modified mean-tone and equal temperament. So the final disc includes several of the composer's more extended, magnificent preludes and chorale settings; Disc 1 contains some works from the early period as well as the great chorale fantasy "Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ", performed on the four-manual organ at the church of St. Ludgeri in Norden.
Vogel is an authoritative and insightful "tour guide" through these influential 17th-century works, who not only gives us the benefit of his extraordinary technical and stylistic expertise in performance but who also provides extensive, detailed, and eminently readable notes on all the music and organs we hear. A separate booklet contains color photos of each instrument and full specifications along with complete registrations for each musical selection. No question, this is an impressive document of important organ music, informed organ playing, and of the sounds of the historic instruments from Buxtehude's era. In other words, organ fans should make this set a priority.