Alexandra Coghlan
Limelight, Australia
February 2022

Back in 2017, British countertenor Iestyn Davies teamed up with regular collaborators Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo for a recital of Bach solo cantatas, including the much-loved BWV170 Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust. The results were Gramophone Award-winningly good.

It’s not marketed as Volume II, but this new recording from the same forces is the follow-up, completing the sequence of Leipzig cantatas from 1726—probably composed, Richard Wigmore’s sleeve notes remind us, for 'an outstandingly gifted boy alto'—with BWV169 Gott soll allein mein Herze haben and BWV35 Geist und Seele wird verwirret.

Davies’ voice—still boyish-pure and agile but animated with a man’s artistry and sophistication—is an ideal vehicle for works whose demands are staggering. The beauty of these accounts, particularly Gott soll allein, is undeniable. But it’s always tempered by expressive restraint, balanced (like the texts themselves) between stern Lutheran piety and rapture. It’s a conflict that’s thrillingly dramatized in the aria Stirb in mir, whose text might speak of the 'empty pleasures' and 'depraved impulses' of the world, but whose music denounces them with convulsive chromatic sensuousness.

Davies might be the headliner, but there’s a scene-stealing turn in both cantatas from organist Tom Foster, whose opening Sinfonias (organ concertos in disguise) dazzle and burst with bell-like freshness and vigour. He’s not alone; the whole ensemble bounds and romps under Cohen’s direction, Leo Duarte’s oboe da caccia and a pair of viola da gambas (Kinga Gáborjáni and Reiko Ichise) periodically grounding the brilliance with their grit and bite.

It’s hard to warm to the unremitting gloom of Buxtehude’s Klag-Lied, but Schütz’s Erbarm dich mein, O Herre Gott is arresting from the obsessive repetition and pleading of its opening. Along with the absurdly starry ‘chorus’, it’s another bonus on a disc full of delights.

Limelight, Australia