Classical CD Reviews

New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon

Monday, 19 March 2012

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra plays Bach

Bach: Cantata “Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust” BWV170, Suite in A Minor BWV1067, Cantata “Widerstehe doch der Sünde” BWV54, Concerto for Oboe and Violin after BWV1060
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra
Daniel Taylor countertenor
John Abberger oboe
Jeanne Lamon violin
Analekta AN 2 9878
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Listeners unfamiliar with the Canadian Baroque music scene are in for a pleasant surprise with this disc from one of the country's leading period instrument ensembles. The all-Bach programme combines two of the composer's four surviving alto cantatas with an orchestral suite and a double concerto transcribed from a concerto for harpsichord. It's quite a populist programme, suggesting that it is unlikely to be the start of a major series, which is a shame because the playing and singing are excellent throughout.
Period instrument Bach is almost always flowing and atmospheric, but the composer's orchestral textures have never sounded quite as easy-going as they do here. We are in a warm church acoustic, and none of the musicians make any effort to compensate for the roundness this gives to their sound. It is too easy to relax into this music, and if you do, you'll miss all sorts of subtleties and details. The oboe and oboe d'amore playing of John Abberger fits well into this aesthetic, and he never exaggerates any phrasing or articulations. But if you listen closely, it is all there, and the subtle dynamic nuances he uses shape the phrases decisively. The orchestra's leader and artistic director is the violinist Jeanne Lamon. She is a soloist in both the Suite and the Concerto (the concerto is arranged for oboe and violin from BWV1060) and she has just enough edge in her sound to stand out from the ensemble. She is also a little more forceful in her articulation, and in the Suite in particular it is clear from her playing that she is leading the ensemble from the violin.
The young countertenor Daniel Taylor is rapidly establishing a reputation for himself in Baroque performance on both sides of the pond. His is about the most effeminate countertenor voice I've ever heard, and you could easily mistake him for a female alto (and I'm not talking about his long hair). Given the controversy that more nasal-sounding countertenors can face, it is probably fair to say that this is the kind of voice most likely to please the most listeners, myself included. Like the other soloists, the roundness and warmth of Taylor's tone and articulation make him the ideal collaborator with this orchestra. And the string ensemble are always sensitive in their accompaniments, giving him the space to produce relaxed but alluring performances.
A recommendation then for this disc of Canadian Bach. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where it sits on the spectrum of period instrument performance, but it is certainly at the atmospheric rather than the analytic end, so more Masaaki Suzuki than Ton Koopman. But the textures here flow even more gracefully than in Suzuki's recordings. That can lead to disengagement by the listener, who could be forgiven for treating it as background music. But resist the temptation and listen hard, because there is so much beautiful and artistically satisfying detail here that never demands your attention but always deserves it.

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