Buxtehude, Three Men & One ViolonistWednesday, August 15, 2007
"Vulnerasti cor meum, soror mea, sponsa."
"Thou Hast wounded me to the heart, my sister my bride."
Cantate VI Ad cor
Membra Jesu Nostri
My friend Graham Walker not only keeps his shoes shined immaculately but he also has an exquisite taste for music. Only the very best is good enough for him. We attend many local concerts of baroque music (with Abraham Rogatnick and my granddaughter Rebecca) and new music. Graham has very good pitch and any note that is not quite what it should be elicits painful glances from him in my direction. His taste for selecting the best CDs is such that I look forward to that Christmas present (one CD ) from him. This year the CD was the remarkable and fairly rare recording of Dietrich Buxtehude's (1637-1707) Membra Jesu Nostri performed by Cantus Cölln and conducted by Konrad Junghanel.
Buxtehude is not a household word. But just about anybody keen on baroque music knows that in 1705 Bach walked 200 miles to Lübeck to listen to Buxtehude (then 70) play his virtuoso organ music.
Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri are 7 cantatas with words in Latin dedicated to the feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart and face of Jesus Christ on the cross. They are a one on one relationship beween the worshiper (represented by the singers) and Jesus Christ. This music, which may have been performed on a Good Friday, was most un-Lutheran and very Catholic - very strange for the very Lutheran city of Lübeck.
Graham Walker's gift CD is, of course superb. But I never would have suspected back in December that last night, Graham, Abraham and I (alas Rebecca is in Parksville) would listen to a live performance, which by an unlikely turn of events, was performed in UBC's old and crumbling (but beautiful, and almost baroque and acoustically alive)Old Auditorium. There we were on the first row and a gentle breeze came in from a side door. The concert came via Early Music Vancouver and Festival Vancouver.
There were 5 vocalists: sopranos Suzie LeBlanc and Shannon Mercer, alto Matthew White (top, left), tenor Colin Baltzer(top, right) and baritone Tyler Duncan (left). These last three (I call them Los Tres Caballeros) have sung together so many times (many with Suzie LeBlanc) that the relationship between them is quiet but electric.
The best aspect of this concert was listening to Matthew White's countertenor voice sandwiched between the two sopranos and the tenor and baritone. A mezzo soprano simply would not have sounded as brilliant. My favourite Cantata was Cantate V Ad Pectus that just featured the Los Tres Caballeros.
From where we were, front row and stage left, we could listen to the excellent musical group headed by organist Alexander Weimann and in particular, our very own Nan Mackie (Pacific Baroque Orchestra) play on her violon. Nan from the very biginning some years ago set me straight on this instrument. It is not a counterbass or string bass, it is a a member of the viola da gamba family. She also played a (smaller) viola da gamba. Her instrument is similar in shape and size to a cello but it has an extra string and she holds her bow underhanded. She was superb.
The chances that we will listen to another live performance of Membra Jesu Nostri again are close to zero. But Rebecca has a whole lifetime to wait for this rare privilege. And a rare privilege it was.
Driving home in Abraham's car Graham said, "There is no reason why what we heard tonight is not on par with Bach." If Graham says that I think I must agree.