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This beautiful box set was originally released in 2007, the Buxtehude tercentenary year, but is now re-released as a second edition with revised booklet and the addition of a DVD focused on the Schnitger organ in Cappel.

Harald Vogel has spent his career in the service of Buxtehude and the restoration of appropriate 17th-century organs in north Germany. These recordings were made between 1986 and 1993 on the most famous historic organs in north Germany and Denmark, listed above. It is a miracle that this repertoire has survived. Unlike the French repertoire there were no publications, and none of Buxtehude’s organ manuscripts survive. All extant sources are copies, many of which stem from central Germany a generation or two later, and J.S. Bach in particular. These copies were possibly subjected to alterations: mis-transcription of tablatures (notes and rhythms), transpositions to suit later tuning systems, rearrangements of manual/pedal parts, updating to suit different aesthetics, and even possible adaptations of organ works to harpsichord idioms. None of these can be proved or disproved, but the important questions remain. Hence all modern published editions are subjective realisations. Only the Broude Trust’s projected complete edition on two staves will be authoritative in providing all known variants, although the choice of principal texts is ultimately subjective.

Vogel is aware of these issues. Some of the praeludia are recorded in transposed versions as well as in their extant keys, depending on the temperament of particular organs. Hence BUXWV 143 is recorded in both E and D minor, BUXWV 146 in F sharp minor and G minor, BUXWV 151 in A major and G major, and BUXWV 141 in E major and C major. Programmes juxtaposing praeludia with canzonas and chorale-based works are organised around particular instruments. Quite apart from the excellent music, this CD-set is a wonderful tour of some of the world’s greatest historic organs. Furthermore, Vogel makes the most of the infinite variety of registrations obtainable. Each programme allows one to hear the characters of individual stops and all the appropriate combinations. Of course, this emanates from Vogel’s subjective imagination, but grounded firmly in scholarship; unlike French publications, no registration instructions survive, but Vogel is surely right to maximise the possibilities. North German organs are every bit as colourful as the Clicquots in France, but registration instructions were never printed.

The two booklets give details of the organs, specifications, temperaments and registrations used. Essays discuss temperaments, chronology, organ histories, registration, as well as particular compositions. This is a wonderful collection, not that Vogel has the last word on Buxtehude – nobody has – but it provides such inspiration regarding the organs, the interpretations, registrations and performance practices of this marvellous repertoire.

The demonstration of the Arp Schnitger organ now at Cappel, originally built for Hamburg, is a lesson to us all. Vogel’s fluent account of its history, his demonstration of each rank, and his performances of works by Bach, Pachelbel, Buxtehude and Vivaldi show the instrument – the most original extant Schnitger organ – to its best advantage.

DAVID PONSFORD Read the full review on Agora Classica

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