Buxtehude’s position as organist at Lübeck required little of him in the way of vocal music. Nevertheless, a rich legacy of miscellaneous vocal works has survived, almost all of which are settings of sacred texts. Some of these were doubtless sung at the Communion services in Lübeck’s Marienkirche, as well as at the popular Abendmusik concerts held there, but their markedly private, devotional character often suggests a more intimate purpose. This quality reigns uppermost in the Purcell Quartet’s programme, which contains works which nowadays fall under the generic term ‘cantata’, but which really occupy middle territory between the favoured forms of Buxtehude’s predecessors and the early cantatas of Bach. None of the pieces here is new to the catalogue, but I can think of no performance that has served them more affectionately and with such sensibility to Buxtehude’s warmly communicative harmonies. Emma Kirkby and the excellent Canadian soprano Suzie LeBlanc are a well-matched duo whose lightly articulated inflections and ethereal vocalise afford constant pleasure. But it is perhaps Peter Harvey who steals this particular show with his beautifully poised and expressively sensitive declamation of ‘Mein Herz ist bereit’. All three soloists come together in three of the pieces, of which ‘Jesu, meine Freude’ stands alone for its tenderness and intimacy. No wonder the young Bach took time off to visit Buxtehude in Lübeck. He’s well worth a very extended leave.
A few rough moments apart, the Purcell Quartet’s supportive contribution is all that one could wish for. Nicholas Anderson