Oliver Condy
BBC Music Magazine
February 2022

Bach wrote four cantatas for solo countertenor, two of which, BWV 35 and 169, incorporate magnificent concerto movements. So, they’re the perfect vehicles for the crack team of Iestyn Davies’s extraordinary vocal control and Arcangelo’s nimble-footedness.

BWV 169, Gott soll allein mein Herze haben (‘God alone shall have my heart’) leaps from the starting blocks with an ebullient sinfonia with organ obbligato that Bach himself probably played at its first performance in Leipzig in 1726, and which he later arranged as the first movement of the E major Keyboard Concerto BWV 1053. It’s compellingly paced and played here by Arcangelo who, in later movements, adapt to every one of Davies’s vocal inflections, most notably in recitatives. The second aria, ‘Stirb in mir’, a sicilienne, is one of Bach’s most breathtaking, and Davies and Arcangelo strike a near-perfect mix of ‘Affekt’ and rhythmic swing. No less impressive is the performance of BWV 35, Geist und Seele wird verwirret ('Spirit and Soul become confused') with its two noble sinfonias from a now-lost oboe concerto. The first of its three arias is another sicilienne, this time juxtaposing a decorative organ part.

Schütz’s anguished Erbarm dich, published a century before, and Buxtehude’s equally desolate Klag-Lied (‘Elegy’) of 1674 provide a welcome change in mood, both works again showcasing Arcangelo’s burnished strings and Davies’s natural instinct for drama and heartfelt expression.