Buxtehude: Membra Jesu nostri

RossoPorpora, Walter Testolin
Stradivarius STR 37004

I have known this work since the early 1980s and I have yet to find a recording of it that is utterly satisfying on all levels. This disc, alas, also fails to deliver the perfection which the work that is arguably Buxtehude’s magnum opus deserves. In fact, it is as if three totally different performances had been combined: the instrumental sonatas are rather understated and rather plain, the tuttis – despite what I have to commend as the best choral singing I have ever heard from Italy with a beautiful balance between the voices – are micro-managed (in my opinion) to a fault, and the solos (though once again well sung by different members of the choir) are overly fussy in their redistribution of continuo instruments. In the “choruses”, it is as if the conductor wants to wring every last drop of passion out of the notes – vast expanses of silence interrupt the flow (this also happens in some of the sonatas, where there is no indication in the score), then powerful forward-driving harmonic passages are drawn out – try “Quid sunt plagæ iste” (Tracks 14 or 18) for size; I’ve never heard the third word sung with a soft “g” before either… If you are unfamiliar with the music, you may not have the same reaction to these performances as I have – do try it for yourselves!

Brian Clark