An exciting young Dutch early-music collective takes on a 17th-century masterpiece Lenten devotion.
Membra Jesu nostri consists of seven cantatas which graphically depict the suffering of Christ and the different parts of his tormented body. The surprising beauty and integrity of the cycle as a whole lies in its combination of the strict Protestant North German style with that of the Italian school, the symbiosis of mystical outbursts and dancing, transparent and almost ethereal textures.
The Groningen-based Luthers Bach Ensemble recorded this in spring 2021, at the height of the pandemic, through which they have played as active a part in the city’s cultural scene as possible with socially distanced concerts and music-making. Formed in 2006, the LBE can call upon a pool of highly practised early-music specialists in both voices and instruments, as well as the longer Dutch history of historically informed performance praxis.
The stylistic pedigree of this new recording of Membra Jesu nostri places it alongside the great recordings of the cycle over the course of the last half-century. A fine balance is struck between the solemn piety of the cycle’s text and the assuaging pathos of its expression, with its many striking contrasts of solo and large-scale textures, its passionate outbursts and reflective melismas.
The booklet includes an introduction to the work plus full sung text and translation.
The ensemble’s founder-director is Tymen Jan Bronda, who has been the cantor-organist at the ensemble’s home of the Lutheran Church in Groningen since 2001. The artistic advisor and continuo player on this album is the distinguished Dutch harpsichordist Robert Koolstra, and the ensemble is led by Cecilia Bernadini (daughter of the oboist Alfredo Bernadini), who has also been the leader of the Dunedin Consort since 2012.
Buxtehude was probably born in 1637, as Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707), in the Duchy of Holstein, which is now partly in Denmark. His father was an organist; as a result, Buxtehude came into contact with organ music at a young age, and he also became an organist himself. After two appointments in his native country, Buxtehude left for Germany. He took the position of organist in the Marienkirche in Lübeck in 1668 where he would continue to work until his death in 1707. During his Lübecker years Buxtehude was a prolific composer. His style demonstrates the variety of musical influences that he was exposed to, particularly from German and Italian repertoire, which he combined to create a unique personal style.
‘Membra Jesu Nostri’, also known as ‘the first Lutheran oratorio', was first performed in Lübeck in 1680. The full title of the 6-part piece is ‘Membra Jesu Nostri Patientis Sanctissima’, literally translated 'The most holy limbs of our Lord Jesus in his suffering'. The piece consists of seven cantatas that deal with different parts of the body of the suffering and dying Christ on the cross: feet, knees, hands, side, chest, heart and head. The work is the perfect combination of the strict Protestant North German style and that of the Italian school, the symbiosis of mystical outbursts and serious transparency.
The Luthers Bach Ensemble was founded in 2006 with the express intention to perform Bach’s cantatas in historically informed practice and style on period instruments. Soon afterwards, its repertoire was widened and came to include music from Monteverdi to Brahms. In the last few years the ensemble has performed Bach’s passions in a semi-scenic style, in which the Passion story is sung by heart - no scores - with appropriate gestures and lighting effects. The soloists on this recording are Kristen Witmer soprano I, Lucia Caihuela soprano II, Jan Kullmann alto, William Knight tenor and Matthew Baker bass.