Hugh Canning
The Sunday Times
January 2017

For Bach, “male alto” meant a teenage boy with an unbroken voice, but he must have had outstanding young soloists in his Weimar and Leipzig choirs when he wrote the solo cantatas Widerstehe doch der Sünde (Just resist sin, BWV54) and Vergnügte Ruh beliebte Seelenlust (Contented rest, beloved joy of the soul, BWV170) in those cities, respectively in circa 1715 and 1726. With the better-known Ich habe genug (BWV82)—evidently a favourite among his own compositions, as he wrote it for bass and revised it for both soprano and alto—this makes an ideal and rewarding programme for Iestyn Davies’s limpid countertenor. If his German is not entirely idiomatic, his words are invariably clear and he relishes the interplay with the Arcangelo ensemble’s soloists: oboe in the ravishing opening aria of BWV170, and organ in Wer Sünde tut, der ist vom Teufel (He who sins is from the devil) in BWV54. Best of all is the rapt singing of Schlummert ein (Go to sleep), in the well-known BWV82. The orchestral items—the Sinfonias to BWV52 and BWV174—show Bach recycling the opening movements of his First and Third Brandenburg Concertos, with richer orchestration. Overall, a lovely disc.