Jonathan Freeman-Attwood
August 2017

This mini-series of cantatas for solo soprano encompasses nine works of exceptional quality and variety, the initial volume of three masterpieces—in no particular order—displaying both Bach’s special affinity to this attractive subgenre of cantata and Gillian Keith’s profoundly incisive and intelligent singing. Underpinning these telling vocal excursions is an unaffected simplicity of utterance in the accompanying role of the Armonico Consort. If occasionally a touch under-inflected, the ensemble speaks as one with intimacy around Keith’s focused timbre and quicksilver diction.

Bach’s own later transposition of Ich habe genug for soprano and flute still takes some acclimatisation for those wedded to the baritone version; the benefit of this scoring, when performed with such sensitivity to text and lightness of texture, is that it never falls into the saccharine trap to which the original has too often become prey. This reading is indeed as satisfying as any I’ve heard (in which flautist Eva Caballero deserves special mention), and with a radiant and freshly minted ‘Schlummert ein’. If Weichet nur is less polished than the framing works, and cannot rival the luxuriance of Carolyn Sampson’s recent recording in her soprano Weimar cantatas with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (Harmonia Mundi, 7/17), the dialogue between singer and oboist is joyfully immediate right through to the delectable bounce of the final gavotte.

The jewel in the crown here is the late and woefully under-appreciated wedding cantata, O holder Tag. Over half an hour the soprano is put through her paces in a compendium of technical pyrotechnics and expressive conceits. This could be made for Gillian Keith as she traverses the filigree with seasoned panache and always gloriously instinctive textual nuancing. This version may not have the instrumental flair in Carolyn Sampson or Dorothea Röschmann’s readings but Keith’s contains a communicative reach into the sinews of Bach’s music which is rare indeed. ‘Seid beglückt’—a virtuoso valediction for the young married ones—is rattled off with exhilarating and pinpoint aplomb and is worth the price of the disc alone.