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Andrew Mellor
Gramophone, December 2016


Buxtehude was one of the most important and prolific setters of Psalm texts during the 17th century, composing Psalm-based motets to be sung in Latin, German, Swedish and Danish. Psalm 134 is a joyous celebration of the deity—‘lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and praise the Lord’; but while Buxtehude adds supplementary alleluias at the end, he casts his setting for low voices in a touching act of Scandinavian restraint. © 2016 Gramophone

David Barker
MusicWeb International, December 2011

An eye-opener for me...I found immense pleasure in this. © MusicWeb International

Bertil van Boer
Fanfare, July 2011

Although one tends to think of Bach predecessor Dietrich Buxtehude as the principal figure of late 17th-century German Lutheran church music whom composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach sought out in Lübeck, the truth is that he spent a fair portion of his life as organist at the Mariekirke in Helsingør, Denmark. It was there that he honed his style, learning from organists such as Claus Dengel and Johan Lorentz the Younger, not to mention his own father. As a result he was not only immersed in Protestant music of the time, he also positioned himself so that when the lucrative and prestigious post of organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck came vacant in 1667 on the death of Franz Tunder, he was able to slip into the position with nary a squeak from other possible contenders. This post offered him many possibilities, not least of which was his own ability to create extra-liturgical concerts called Abendmusik and maintain friendships throughout Scandinavia, which did not deter from various commissions from as far away as Stockholm.

This disc contains a series of “Scandinavian” works, many of which were composed while still at Helsingør. The two organ works, the E-Minor Praeludium and the D-Minor Passacaglia, have been recorded relatively frequently; indeed, the latter has no fewer than 10 versions. But what makes this special is that the instrument used is the same one more or less used by Buxtehude himself. The remainder have had little exposure. The Swedish aria “Att du Jesu vill mig höra” appears on a Carus disc from 2007, performed by Barbara Steude under the direction of Paul Hillier, but that is about it. These works represent a mixture of types of pieces, from this strophic aria to the austere two-movement a cappella Mass in the old Palestrina style, to Latin works such as the “Pange lingua” or “Accedite gentes” composed in the sacred concerto style reminiscent of Heinrich Schütz. These last two in particular have floating violin ritornellos and vocal lines that range from short and perfunctory to florid melismas. In the motet “Herren vår Gud,” Buxtehude sets a dialogue between the violins accompanying a rather straightforward chorale harmonization of the text, while in the paean to the monarch “Domine salvum fac regem,” probably written for a ceremony of some sort at the Swedish court, one can find hints of Venetian polyphony in the use of some nice echo effects. In short, this disc contains some rare and extremely interesting music, which while not always Scandinavian in tone or content, certainly demonstrates the prowess of Buxtehude and Protestant church music (even in Latin) in the far north.

I am unfamiliar with either group, the Theatre of Voices or the TOV Band, in this incarnation, although Hillier’s group has been in existence since the early 1990s. From the cast list, however, it seems to be drawn from the membership of the Ars Nova Copenhagen, whose work heretofore seems to have been new music, such as the David Lang piece that won last year’s Grammy awards. The singers seem mainly Danish, and their tones do blend quite well, although their choral singing is much more restrained than German early-music counterparts, such as the Cantus Cölln. In the “Ecce nunc benedicite,” countertenor William Purefoy is fine, though I’d have preferred more depth to his tone, and in the “Pange lingua,” top soprano Else Torp can be a bit strident. That being said, her pure tone in the aria “Att du Jesu vill mig höra” floats the piece along like a Scandinavian folk song, creating simplicity and musicality at the same time. I far prefer this to the steady (and staid) approach taken by Barbara Steude in the Carus recording. The ensemble blends well together, though I detect at certain times, such as in “Herren vår Gud,” that the violins can be a bit tinny. I do find this to be a fine disc, however, and such small points are matters of personal preference rather than reflective of the quality of the whole. For rarities and if you are a Buxtehude fan, this disc is one you will want to own.

Peter Loewen
American Record Guide, May 2011

The singing is glorious, as usual. Solo voices are lovely.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Johan van Veen
MusicWeb International, April 2011

The commemoration of Buxtehude’s death in 2007 resulted in widespread interest in his vocal works. Buxtehude left more than 120 such pieces, which is remarkable considering that as organist of St Mary’s in Lübeck he was not responsible for the vocal music for the liturgy. Some of his sacred music may have been performed during the services on Sundays and feast-days, but most of it was probably intended for performance during public concerts, in particular the famous Abendmusiken.

His vocal works are written on texts in four different languages: German, Latin, Swedish and Italian. The largest proportion have German texts, but the number of pieces on a Latin text is considerable. This is not as odd as one may think. When Martin Luther reformed the liturgy he stressed the importance of the use of texts in the vernacular, but he never wanted to abolish Latin altogether. It seems there was a preference for liturgical music in Latin in St Mary’s in Lübeck. An inventory of the printed music in the possession of the church shows that a large portion set Latin texts.

This disc is devoted to music on Latin and Swedish texts. Pange lingua gloriosi is the setting of a text attributed to Thomas of Aquinas and was written for the feast of Corpus Christi. This isn’t celebrated in the Lutheran church, and it is suggested it could have been performed during the distribution of the communion at any time of the ecclesiastical year. It is one of those pieces in which Buxtehude merges the forms of concerto and aria. The text is strophic, but the music is through-composed. Ecce nunc benedicite is a setting of Psalm 134 (133), one of the pilgrim’s Psalms, which has only three verses. It is scored for lower voices: alto, two tenors and bass, and is divided in four sections: the first verse is split into two episodes. All begin with a solo which is then extended to a four-part texture. This creates a kind of crescendo which reflects the text of this psalm in which the pilgrims urge each other to bless the Lord.

Buxtehude scholar Kerala J. Snyder states in the liner-notes that Domine salvum fac regem (O Lord, save the king) is more likely to have been written for use in the kingdom of Sweden—by Buxtehude’s friend Gustav Düben who was Kapellmeister at the court in Stockholm—than in Lübeck, which was an free imperial city and ruled by a council. The character of this piece with its emphasis on the tutti supports this view. Accedite gentes is attributed to Buxtehude, but its authenticity is highly unlikely. The text is an anonymous paraphrase of selected verses from the Book of Psalms. It is written in a quite dramatic style, and at several moments reminded me of the oratorios of Giacomo Carissimi, for instance the way the word “pereant” (perish) is set. Voices and instruments are more integrated in this piece than usual in Buxtehude’s vocal works in which the instruments mostly play the ritornellos.

A remarkable composition is the Missa alla brevis whose authenticity has been doubted as well, but which seems to be from Buxtehude’s pen after all. It is written in the stile antico, the old style of the renaissance which was still held in high esteem in the 17th century. The title refers to the longer note values and the tactus on the brevis, but also to the fact that it is a missa brevis, consisting of Kyrie and Gloria only. It is scored for five voices with basso continuo.

Buxtehude has written two pieces on Swedish texts, which have both been recorded here. Herren vår Gud is a four-part chorale setting and was probably commissioned by Gustav Düben. The text is a poetic paraphrase of Psalm 20; Buxtehude has set the first and last stanzas with the melody from a Swedish hymnal from 1697. The instruments play interjections between the phrases. Att du Jesu vill mig höra is the only piece on this disc which is not preserved in the Düben Collection, but has been found in the collection of Henrich Christoffer Engelhardt, who was organist in various Swedish cities in the early 18th century. It is an aria for solo voice and basso continuo, with the instruments playing a sinfonia and ritornellos. It is a prayer for forgiveness which explains its mournful character.

The programme is rounded off with two organ works. The Prelude in e minor is a typical specimen of the stylus phantasticus, and consists of an improvisatory opening section which is followed by two fugues. Then after another short episode in free style the piece concludes with another fugue. The Passacaglia in d minor is one of Buxtehude’s most famous organ pieces. Buxtehude was one of the first in Germany to write organ music based on an ostinato bass pattern.

Bine Bryndorf plays these two pieces well, but I would have liked a more dramatic treatment of the second fugue of the Prelude in e minor. The various episodes of the Passacaglia could have been more differentiated. It is praiseworthy that she also plays the basso continuo at the large organ of St Mary’s in Helsingør. I have noticed this practice in several recent recordings of music by Buxtehude and his contemporaries. This is a most satisfying development, as it is much more in line with the performances in Buxtehude’s time than the use of a small positive. It also makes the basso continuo more present.

The singers give generally good performances, and they have a good command of this repertoire. I am particularly impressed by the singing of the two tenors Adam Riis and Johan Linderoth and the bass Jakob Bloch Jespersen. But I am less satisfied with the two sopranos Else Torp and Bente Vist and the alto William Purefroy who use too much vibrato. It is rather curious that in the Missa alla brevis they do without it. So why not in the other pieces as well? That would have made this disc even more enjoyable than it is. Also hard to understand is the Italian pronunciation of the Latin texts.

These critical remarks shouldn’t dissuade you from purchasing this disc. The music is wonderful, and the performances are good enough to reveal the quality of this music. The booklet contains liner-notes by the internationally renowned Buxtehude scholar Kerala J. Snyder as well as the lyrics, all of them in English, German and Danish.

David Vickers
Gramophone, March 2011

Less familiar fare is explored by Paul Hillier and the Theatre of Voices. Their programme of “Scandinavian Cantatas” presents both of Buxtehude’s little-known short works in Latin, including the composer’s only Missa brevis written in the stile  antico. Organist Bine Brydorf has already recorded a survey of Buxtehude’s organ music on historic instruments for Dacapo but here she provides two magnificent solo performances played on the organ of St Mary’s in Elsinore (where Buxtehude worked from 1660 until 1668 when he got his job for life at St Mary’s in Lubeck). The Theatre of Voices convey a compelling atmosphere of drama, commitment and plangent sonorities in Buxtehude’s setting of Pangue lingua gloriosi (a medieval hymn attributed to Thomas Aquinas), and the introductory sonata to the psalm Ecce nunc benedicite Domino is played with refined joyfulness. Even though Buxtehude probably did not compose Accedite gentes, its text of paraphrased psalms is communicated with vigour and authority. The Swedish concertato chorale Herren vår Gud is performed eloquently and the lamentful aria Att du Jesu vill mig höra is sung sincerely by soprano Else Torp. Dacapo’s stunning sound engineering, Kerala Synder’s expert essay and the superb musicianship of the six voices (personnel almost identical to Hillier’s Schutz cycle with  Ars Nova Copenhagen) and seven instrumentalists (led immaculately by violinist Peter Spissky) make this easy to recommend enthusiastically.

Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, February 2011

A welcome addition to the Buxtehude recordings which were issued or reissued in the anniversary year of 2007 and which still continue to come forth. This is well worth having for the quality of the music—not all of it ‘Scandinavian’, despite the title and the fact that two of the texts are in Swedish—the performances and the recording.

Bine Bryndorf’s complete recording of the organ works, also for the da Capo label, was one of the highlights of Buxtehude year and her contributions here are no less welcome—perhaps they will tempt listeners to explore one or more of those albums, on CD or from classicsonline. also have three of the volumes in lossless flac.

Paul Hillier is a real pluralist: not only has he recorded for a variety of labels, but his expertise stretches from the late-medieval Old Hall Manuscript (Virgin 5613932, download only, from via William Billings (Harmonia Mundi HCX3957048 and 3957128) to Terry Riley (in C, da Capo 8.226049). These Buxtehude works with the Theatre of Voices are among the very best recordings which he has offered us.

The sound is mp3 only, but at the highest bit-rate, so little is lost, apart from the SACD layer on the parent CD, which, on the strength of the download, must be very good. Full marks to classicsonline for including the important booklet with this and so many of their recent downloads. It’s also available to Naxos Music Library subscribers.

Steve Holtje
Culture Catch, January 2011

Baroque composer Dietrich Buxtehude (c.1637–1707) was probably born in a Danish town that’s now in Sweden. The son of an organist, he became one as well, and is best known as a composer for that instrument, but like many church musicians he also wrote choral music. This disc has two organ works (played by Bryndorf) for variety, but focuses on his choral writing, with six texts in Latin (including his only “stile antico” work, the uncertainly attributed Missa alla brevis—one of only two recordings currently in print) and two in Swedish—the only two that have survived. Most of the choral works are short and in a concerto-esque style that alternates instrumental passages with vocal sections. None but the most devoted Baroque-philes will have heard much, if any, of this material; kudos to Hillier for putting together this fascinating and enjoyable program.

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, December 2010

Not known for his vocal music, and never required to write any, this composer has a real flair for the essence of sacred text setting.

Danish composer Dietrich Buxtehude never held a position, including his one at St. Mary’s in Lubeck—for 35 years—that mandated the composition of any vocal music at all. Nevertheless, over 120 works of the genre issued from his pen in four languages in mostly sacred texts. His position as organist and work master at the church was supplemented by his appointment as administrator and treasurer of the church, making him almost as highly paid as the pastor. He was not responsible for the music of the Lutheran service, but instead wrote for the communion, vespers, or the late afternoon post-vespers concerts that he inaugurated.

His cantatas were a mixture of arias and concertos in one unit, always on sacred but not necessarily liturgical texts. It is striking to hear long passages of basically instrumental dialog to be followed by primarily aria-type declamations which have as their basis a concrete homophonic style (as opposed to the vast polyphonic contributions for chorus by both Bach and Handel). Even in the “concerto” areas where the instrumentals dominate there is not what we would consider true polyphonic music at play, as in the organ works (two included on this disc).

However, Buxtehude’s contrapuntal talents are aptly demonstrated when we get to the only example of the stile antico on this disc, his Short Mass, including only the Kyrie and Gloria, typical of this peculiar German Lutheran variant of the Mass. But here the composer hearkens back to the sixteenth century with a continuo-only accompaniment and plenty of imitative counterpoint that ranks with the best of what we find in the late medieval period in the colder north European countries.

This is an outstanding release, stirred to great heights by the ever-energetic Paul Hillier and his marvelous Theater, recorded in vivid and comforting hi-res surround sound at the church of St. Mary’s in Helsingor. The music will surprise you, and you might come to the conclusion that J.S. Bach, who walked a great distance to hear Buxtehude’s legendary organ playing, might have been as interested in some other aspects of his art as well. At least this wonderful disc points to that possibility.

David Vernier, December 2010

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 welcome 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.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2010

Always considered a German composer, Dietrich Buxtehude was probably born in Denmark where he spent his first thirty years before moving to Lubeck in 1667. He would have been familiar with the Swedish language, and, working as a church organist, would have gained a knowledge of Latin. Though never holding a position that required him to compose vocal music, it is believed he composed early oratorios, the vocal music that has survived coming in a very diverse format. So why did he choose Swedish for works that probably come from his years in Lubeck? Often in a virtuoso style, the scene is here set by Pange Lingua Gloriosi, an outgoing piece at odds with its possible use in the distribution of communion. I much enjoyed both the four-part chorale, Herren var Gud, and Else Torp’s soprano solo, Att du Jesu vill mig Hora, while Missa alla Brevis is unique as being his only score strictly intended for liturgical use. It contains only the Kyrie and Gloria of the Catholic Mass, the intertwining strands creating a complex texture. The disc ends with a joyous Domine Salvum Fac Regem, the instrumental group having been excellent throughout. Paul Hillier’s conducting sweeps away dusty cobwebs. There is a learned period awareness, but also a fresh and vital quality that I particularly delight in. The disc is completed by two of Buxtehude’s organ works: the Preludium in E Minor and the D minor Passacaglia. Both are played by Bine Bryndorf with more brio than we normally encounter.

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