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  40:6 (07-08 /2017)
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Reviewer: James V. Maiello

Buxtehude’s Sonata in A Minor, BuxWV 272, opens this recording of north German chamber music. Although the somewhat slow tempo of the first movement robs it of some vitality, the warmth of the violin is especially welcome. One might hope for more dramatic treatment of line and dissonance in the second movement, but the distinctive voices of the theorbo and violin create a welcome timbral contrast in the final passacaglia. The soloists weave elegantly in and out of a tasteful continuo texture. Dietrich Becker’s (1623–1679) Sonata and Suite in D Major is a relative rarity on CD, and La Rêveuse gives its nine short movements a thoroughly enjoyable reading. They keep things interesting even amid a disproportionate number of slow movements through subtle changes in articulation, phrasing, and other details. The brief Solo-Andante is one of the work’s gems, the violin offering lyrical cantabile lines over a gentle, theorbo-dominated continuo. All the dance movements are marked by careful attention to the distinctive conventions of each genre, from the refined courant to a dignified sarabande; a crisp gigue closes the work.

An anonymous solo for viola da gamba and continuo is perhaps the most fascinating piece on the program, beginning with a nebulous, three-minute “sonata.” Florence Bolton is a deeply musical gambist, pulling sinuous lines and digging out satisfyingly gritty double-stops. A substantial passacaglia-adagio follows, during which the continuo offers a stimulating foundation, exploring a variety of textures and instrumental combinations. Again, the soloist is excellent, and one wonders who this anonymous north German composer was, exactly … surely a gambist. Returning to Buxtehude, we find another chamber sonata, this time in G Minor (BuxWV 261). Among the six movements, the centerpiece—another passacaglia—is a standout, an opportunity for Stéphan Dudermel and Bolton to shine together, playing off each other expertly; the closing gigue is also one of the most vibrant selections on the recording.

Buxtehude’s Sonata in D Major, BuxWV 267, features a different gambist, Emily Audouin, whose sound is sometimes reedier than Bolton’s and just as captivating; this is most apparent during the opening and closing movement. Audouin’s graceful style is really on display in the meaty fourth movement, which progresses through four distinct episodes. The program concludes with Buxtehude’s Sonata in B♭ Major, BuxWV 273. Both soloists are confident and just a touch joyful in the passagework of the opening movement, and the dances are idiomatic and restrained. As in other selections on the recording, the alternation of organ, harpsichord, and theorbo as the dominant voices in the continuo represent thoughtful choices and welcome contrasts.

This recording is certainly worth hearing, especially for anyone interested in the music that shaped the late Baroque style in Germany; the anonymous viola da gamba solo and Becker’s sonata-suite provide some context to Buxtehude’s music. These are polished performances all around, though they are often on the safe side. Although some listeners might prefer more intensity, this is more of a personal preference. The ensemble plays comfortably together and it is a pleasure to listen to these works here.

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