Dietrich Buxtehude: Vocal Music, Vol. 1, was the start of an intended series on the Dacapo label of Denmark begun in 1996 and this was the only volume issued. It features Emma Kirkby with John Holloway and Manfred Kraemer on violins, Jaap ter Linden on viola da gamba, and Lars Ulrik Mortensen on organ. Although Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri is rightly considered one of the great choral masterworks of the Baroque era, his other vocal output -- numbering more than 120 works -- seems to have a problem gaining the same kind of traction in the repertoire that his organ music has long enjoyed, even though plenty of it has been recorded. The performances here are everything they should be; Kirkby is radiant and angelic throughout, and the violins provide a perfect concertante foil for her voice, while Mortensen's continuo organ is tasteful and unobtrusive. The one flaw of Dacapo's recording is that you cannot really hear the viola da gamba or much of the harpsichord at times when Mortensen moves over to that instrument.
Although the texts are sacred, the majority of Buxtehude's solo cantatas were first presented at Friday afternoon luncheons in a continuation of a tradition begun by his predecessor, Franz Tunder. Much of Buxtehude's vocal music doesn't stand on its own; you need a little of the organ music to break up the program and keep it interesting -- Buxtehude did so himself in the early public concerts for which many of these pieces were intended. Recognizing this aspect of Buxtehude's own performance, Mortensen inserts some pieces from the collection Fried- und freudenreiche Hinfarht to provide some sense of variety. However, the sheer plain-Jane-ness of some of these cantatas, such as the obsequious "Was mich auf dieser Welt betrübt" (That which brought me into this world), is so ingratiating that it borders on inanity. It sounds like lighter-than-air Johann Sebastian Bach -- the sort of music Bach might have written if he weren't so darn serious. Although some slithery chromatics and tricky passagework briefly invade the center section of the cantata Gen Himmel zu dem Vater mein, the overall effect of this music is not unlike what one might expect at an afternoon luncheon; easy, unchallenging music designed to keep workers happy and as an aid to digestion. For listeners with a very deep interest in Buxtehude, Dacapo's Dietrich Buxtehude: Vocal Music, Vol. 1, might well address a certain need. Nevertheless, on the surface, at least, this is a very shallow pond, not the deep recesses of emotional ocean familiar from Buxtehude's organ music and his Membra Jesu Nostri. This disc was re-released in 2007 on the Naxos label.