Cantilena: Voices of Bach

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Chorales from BWV 12, 31, 75, 136, 140, 147, 166 & 167; Oboe d’Amore Concerto, BWV 209; Oboe Concertos, BWV 49, 105, 170; Cor Anglais Concerto, BWV 54
PERFORMER: Trinity Baroque/Julian Podger; English Concert/Albrecht Mayer (oboe, oboe d’amore, cor anglais)
CATALOGUE NO: 478 1517

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This is a disc of arrangements by Andreas Tarkmann of pieces from Bach’s cantatas, sacred and secular. The chief beneficiary is the oboe, in this instance an up-to-the-minute instrument with all mod cons, most beautifully played by Albrecht Mayer.

Notwithstanding such concessions to the present day Mayer is accompanied throughout by the period instruments of The English Concert, which means some transpositions are necessary, not all of which feel aurally comfortable. The most satisfying items on the disc are the eight chorales, which are least touched by the more extravagant arabesques of the arranger’s pen and which are all affectingly sung by Trinity Baroque under its director, Julian Podger.

The principal bill of fare, though, lies in three Concertos arranged from vocal and instrumental movements from the cantatas. Least successful is that for oboe d’amore and strings constructed from the Italian cantata, BWV 209. This is pre-eminently flute music whose opening movement in B minor – an arranger who meddles with that key in Bach does so at his peril – sounds strangely unconvincing with an oboe d’amore in a distant key.

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The Cor Anglais Concerto from BWV 54, on the other hand, works rather well as does the remaining Oboe Concerto (BWV 105, 170 and 49). In summary, this is an interesting concept sympathetically realised if, on occasion over-generously ornamented by Mayer and his confederates. Nicholas Anderson