As the notes point out, Buxtehude 'never held a position that required him to compose vocal music', but as these works show, he was no stranger to the practice, writing for the voice with adept concision that shows a remarkably wide expressive range and engaging tunefulness. The works are not complex by any means, and employ a minimal contingent of strings and/or organ just sufficient to support and add color to the vocal parts, and to supply textural and occasional imitative or contrasting thematic interest.
These little cantatas - each lasting between five and eight minutes - feature four or five voices (in one case, only a solo singer), with texts in Latin or (in two instances) Swedish, drawn from the Psalms or religious poetry. In addition to the cantatas - and a welcomeD organ Praeludium and Passacaglia - we hear the Kyrie and Gloria of a Missa alla brevis, Buxtehude's 'only strictly liturgical work'; the extraordinary and delightfully surprising chromatic passages in the final few pages of the Gloria make this one of the program's more memorable and immediately repeatable moments.
Paul Hillier's one-voice-to-a-part configuration works very well for these pieces whose style often seems closer to the earlier 17th-century Italian madrigal than to northern European church music of the late 1600s (the opening vocal flourishes and overall expressive character of ‘Ecce nunc benedicite Domino', for instance). All of these singers are excellent, but among them Else Torp is particularly fine in her solo-cantata ‘Att du Jesu vill mig höra' (That you will hear me, Jesus). The instrumental ensemble and continuo playing, as well as the solo-organ renditions by Buxtehude expert Bine Bryndorf, are equally stylish and assured, and everything is recorded in state-of-the-art sound, from the church of St. Mary's, Elsinore (Helsingør), where Buxtehude once served as organist, and who played the (now restored) instrument heard here.