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Often considered Buxtehude’s magnum opus, the cantata cycle Membra Jesu Nostri sets seven Latin meditations – often ascribed to Bernard of Clairvaux – on the body of the crucified Christ, working up from feet to head. Scored for the most part for five voices (SSATB) and instrumental ensemble, each of the cantatas is bookended by a chorus and its reprise, with short arias and ensemble numbers in between that all (with only a few exceptions) use the same bass-line and harmonic structure.

Unlike many of the versions currently available, this new recording of Membra Jesu Nostri by Norwegian ensemble Vox Scaniensis features five soloists who are perhaps not such familiar names – though tenor Johan Linderoth and bass Jakob Bloch Jespersen perhaps enjoy more of a reputation on these shores thanks to their work with Paul Hillier’s groups Ars Nova Copenhagen and Theatre of Voices. The relative obscurity of the vocal line-up is in no way a hindrance to their performance; on the contrary, these voices are absolutely ideal, each one individual, intelligent, and characterful but completely at ease in ensemble. Such is their unity of performance that it’s quite impossible to highlight any one contribution above those of the others; pares inter pares, as it were.

The instrumental ensemble – as small as the scoring allows, with single strings and director Peter Wallin leading from the organ – is no less excellent, and captures the dance rhythms of Buxtehude’s music (yes, dances even in contemplation of death; media morte in vita sumus, if you like) superbly.

This is, quite simply, the most outstanding recording of Membra Jesu Nostri I’ve ever heard, and is, I feel, quite faultless; on completing my first listening I immediately went back to the beginning, such was the joy the performances had brought me, and each repeated hearing brings new delights to the fore.

Adrian Horsewood Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing