The Strad Issue: January 2012
Description: Trio sonatas by a composer best known for his organ and vocal music
Musicians: Purcell Quartet
Composer: Buxtehude

This disc complements the Purcell Quartet’s recording of Buxtehude’s only other published chamber collection, the seven sonatas op.1, matching it in unanimity, incisiveness and tonal transparency. ?Both sonata sets are passionate, inventive and unpredictable, comprising dance-like pieces, brief fugues, variation sets and violin–gamba duets as well as slow airs, introducing passages of virtuosity and employing a bold improvisatory language reminiscent of the stylus phantasticus.

Catherine Mackintosh (nos.1, 2, 4 and 5) and Catherine Weiss (nos.3, 6 and 7) share the violin part. Mackintosh seems the more cautious and accurate and Weiss the freer and more flamboyant – compare, for example, the former’s renditions of the untitled dance-influenced sections in no.1 or the contrapuntal sections of no.2 with the latter’s accounts of the striking violin cadenza of no.6 and the Vivace of no.7. Gambist Richard Boothby and harpsichordist Robert Woolley adapt easily to their violinists’ different qualities, Woolley even occasionally departing from his continuo role to participate in the dialogue.

My highlight, Sonata no.5, finds Mackintosh and Boothby in fine form, demonstrating the work’s full expressive potential and revelling in the freedom given them for solo display – for instance, in the second (Concitato) and fourth (Adagio) movements and the finale’s climactic conclusion. Sound and balance are exemplary.