CD review: Matthias Goerne’s Bach cantatas

First published in the Guardian on 17 August, 2017

Bach: Cantatas for bass
Freiburg Baroque/Goerne (Harmonia Mundi)

Perverse thing to say about a disc of solo bass cantatas, but I like this recording best for its ensemble playing. Freiburg Baroque are at the top of their game: lithe, shapely, tuneful. The strings seem airborne, the winds are gracious, there’s easy warmth in the interaction between them. The oboe playing of Katharina Arfken is reason enough to buy it— clearly someone else thought so, too, because between the cantatas (Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen and Ich habe genug) we get Bach’s fourth harpsichord concerto reconstructed (or possibly reinstated) as a concerto for oboe d’amore. As for the singing? Matthias Goerne is all breath and vowels and gravel and intensity. A long-lined aria like Schlummert ein can feel like being slowly drowned in treacle. There is suave bluster in Mein Gott! wenn kommt das schone: Nun! and well-fed elation in Endlich, endlich will mein Joch. It’s very plush, but lacks in raw, hard-hitting expression.