David Hamilton offers as good a cross-section of Buxtehude’s organ music as one could wish for, and does so with conviction. All the old favourites are here, not least the delightful Gigue fugue in C, which dances as happily and freshly here as a new-born lamb – and the balance between the extended praeludiae and the more intimate chorale-based works seems ideal. Hamilton, whose credentials for recording Buxtehude (if one needs such things) include periods spent studying at the North-German Organ Academy, sets his cards out straight away woth a solid account of the famous G minor Praeludium. Statuesque and grandiloquent, it lacks the improvisatory panache of Bine Bryndorf (on Dacapo), and certainly has none of the sheer excitement of Lionel Rogg’s seminal 1960s recording of the work on EMI, but in his slow, measured way, Hamilton reveals the music’s inner strength and underlying power. In his careful weighting of every note and painstakingly precise realization of each improvisatory flourish – not least the cadenza-like passage leading to the final cadence- there is a danger of ponderousness, but any such tendency is prevented by the wonderfully forthright tomes of the 2004 Bernard Aubertin organ of Aberdeen University’s King’s College Chapel.
This lovely organ, full of beautifully voiced and perfectly complementary stops, comes very much into its own with the more delicate chorale-like works. There’s a captivating set of variations on Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, which sparkles like the brightest morning star, while a chirpy solo registration transforms the all-too-often pedestrian prelude on Vater unser in Himmelreich. Perhaps some of the most magical organ sound comes in Nun lob mein Seel’ den Herren, where Hamilton is clearly relishing the lovely collection of sounds at his disposal. All this is caught with impeccable presence and realism by Divine Art’s recording; like the playing, it’s unspectacular but all the more worthwhile for that. There is no doubt that the principal focus here is the music itself rather than the sound (lovely as it is) of the organ, or the personal virtuosity (about which I have no doubt) of the player.
The best performances come with a powerfully paced and gloriously fluent account of the Ciacona in C minor (where, for the only time, some extraneous action noise creates a slight distraction) and the Magnificat primi toni, which perfectly combines celebratory gestures with more intimate reflection; this performance reveals it to be nothing other than a vivid song without words, the almost human tones of the organ lending it even greater charm.
All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable disc, and, coupled with some immensely readable and fascinating notes (complete with welcome musical illustrations) from Hamilton himself, it is one of the more imposing releases in this Buxtehude tercentenary year.