Buxtehude’s credentials solidly confirmed at the 6th of the organ series at Saint Paul’s

The Buxtehude Project – Programme 6
Richard Apperley – organ

Buxtehude: Praeludium in C, BuxWV 136; ‘Nimm von uns, Herr…’ BuxWV 207; Fuga in B flat, Bux 176; Magnificat primi toni, BuxWV 203; Canzona in C, BuxWV 166; Praeludium in A minor, BuxWV 153

Wellington Cathedral of Saint Paul

Friday 15 July, 12:45 pm

On 17 June I covered some of the background to the formidable complete organ works of Dieterich Buxtehude, after the first four of the series had eluded me (read: Middle C, or I, had neglected them, a grave oversight).

Here was the 6th of the series.
The first work in the programme was fairly large, employing three fugues; optimistic in tone, as the key of C major seems to inspire in composers. It started with an imposing, somewhat rambling, rising scale – a kind of prelude to the Prelude. The middle fugue sounded more orthodox, in common time, coherent and interesting in its progress and it led to the third fugue cast in a gigue rhythm.

Next came a piece based on a chorale, a set of chorale variations which, to begin, employed much less formal registrations than the Praeludium: flutes and lighter reeds, suggesting bird-song. A second variation was more densely textured, and the subsequent variations continued to offer interesting forays in imaginative registers, often with quite bold counter-melodies underlying the main themes.

The Fuga in B flat was an elaborate exercise, as its several lines of counterpoint were punctuated by dense passages that were occasionally coloured by nasal sounding stops.

A Magnificat setting followed, in which the actual fugal passages alternated with more rhapsodic music, succeeding in exhibiting the fecundity of the composer’s melodic imagination and his ability to fuse grandeur and decorative passages.

Another Canzona (I heard one in the previous recital on 17 June) offered yet another vehicle for the composer’s ingenuity and mastery of the rich variety in styles of organ music that existed in the late 17th century: rippling meanderings; airy, whispering stops suggesting shimmering light; peaceful and lyrical phases; quite striking colour changes as hands moved from one manual to another.

And finally, a Praeludium that was even more imposing and engrossing than the opening one: this time in a minor key: Apperley’s note confessed to its being one of his favourites, and his virtuosic performance was convincing evidence of his opinion. It encompassed music of ever-changing mood, melodic and developmental richness and mastery. It moved through fugal phases and highly decorated scales and arpeggios, changing tempi and rhythms and abrupt changes of direction, all ending with a tumbling, highly complex and thrilling coda that must have left his congregation in the Marienkirche in Lübeck wide-eyed and stunned.

I confess to finding myself in a somewhat similar state after this second dose of the great Danish-German master. And this condition has to be very substantially attributed to the wonderful mastery of the cathedral’s organ by Richard Apperley.

You should look out for the next in the Buxtehude series: there’s nothing boring or pious about this music.

Coming up next Friday, the 22nd, is the first of the Mendelssohn series from Michael Stewart; then Buxtehude Episode 7 from Apperley on Friday 19 August.


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