Notes and Editorial Reviews
7 Trio Sonatas,
CHANDOS CHAN 0784 (62:55)
With this disc the Purcell Quartet completes a traversal of the trio sonatas (or “suonate,” to use the title on this disc) of Dietrich Buxtehude for violin, viola da gamba, and harpsichord. For unknown reasons, the op. 2 set has received far fewer recordings than has the op. 1, this being only the third in the active catalog. (As for how a quartet plays trios, the answer is that the two violinists take turns;
Catherine Mackintosh plays Sonatas Nos. 1, 2, 4, and 5, while Catherine Weiss plays Nos. 3, 6, and 7.) For those not familiar with these works, these relatively early essays in the emerging sonata genre do not yet follow the standard three- and four-movement patterns of the
sonata da camera
sonata da chiesa
of the high Baroque. Instead, within a compass of about 10 minutes, there are anywhere from five to 14 distinct sections within one sonata, though they generally flow seamlessly into one another and so each sonata is given only one track on the disc. Despite the use of abstract tempo indications—
Grave, Lento, Allegro, Vivace,
etc.—for most of these sections, they are in fact dance movements and airs of various types from the period, and correspondingly lively and light in manner and style.
The op. 1 set was reviewed in
33:5 by Lynn René Bayley. In that review she termed the ensemble’s performances “interesting but slightly flawed.” While conceding it to be a “highly musical, serious, and thoughtful group of musicians” who “play with humor, energy, and a delightful rhythmic lilt” in rapid passages, in her view its members “do not play with the slightly irregular beat that is the very core of Buxtehude’s music.” She continued, “If you want to know what I mean, just start playing track 1 and listen. The slow introduction to the first sonata, played strictly without vibrato, sounds like amateur players scraping wire strings. I can live without this kind of sound, and further, I defy anyone who is musically sensitive (as opposed to musicologically biased) to hear this kind of sound as anything but edgy and unpleasant.”
Well then, with some reluctance, defy I shall. There has been some rather bloody ink spilled in these pages over likes and dislikes in the qualities and use of period instruments, which I do not propose to rehash; while I happen to prefer period-string instruments with a more silken rather than astringent tone, or harpsichord to piano for Bach, I can enjoy any approach that is genuinely musical and empathic with the music in question. I also trust that I am musically sensitive; certainly I am not musicologically biased. In reviewing the present disc, I can find absolutely nothing “edgy and unpleasant” about the playing of the Purcell Quartet. Does the Mortensen / ter Linden / Holloway trio on the competing Naxos cycle have a sweeter sound (emphasized by a significantly more resonant recorded acoustic)? Yes—and as a matter of taste I might actually join Bayley in preferring them, if I had to live with just one version of these works (the Naxos budget price helps as well). However, the Purcell players are exceptionally accomplished performers whose straighter, vibratoless tone is pure, appealing, and not the slightest bit harsh, and a comparison of them to “amateur players scraping wire strings” is simply absurd.
As for “the slightly irregular beat that is the very core of Buxtehude’s music” that the Purcell allegedly fails to observe, I confess that I do not know what Bayley means by this. On the contrary, while the ensemble’s playing maintains a steady pulse (as it should), it shows a subtle flexibility in tempi and phrasing at any number of points in various movements. There is no metronomic stiffness, and the slow movements are allowed to unfold and breathe in a suitably gentle manner. In sum, these are first-class performances of first-class repertoire, and highly recommended; whether you buy this disc or the competing Naxos release, be sure to add these works to your collection of Baroque instrumental repertoire.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
Works on This Recording
Sonata in B flat major, Op. 2, No. 1, BuxWV 259
Sonata in D major, Op. 2, No. 2, BuxWV 260
Sonata in G minor, Op. 2, No. 3, BuxWV 261
Sonata in C minor, Op. 2, No. 4, BuxWV 262
Sonata in A major, Op. 2, No. 5, BuxWV 263
Sonata in E major, Op. 2, No. 6, BuxWV 264
Sonata in F major, Op. 2, No. 7, BuxWV 265
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