This is a very attractive and enterprising programme, linking Bach's well-known cantata no. 140 'Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme' with two earlier settings by Buxtehude, another cantata by the latter and a couple of instrumental works. It's performed by the London-based period-instrument Bach Players, directed by violinist Nicolette Moonen. The vocal works are sung by four soloists: soprano Rachel Elliott, alto Sally Bruce-Payne, tenor Samuel Boden and bass Jonathan Gunthorpe.
The disc opens with the better-known of Buxtehude's two settings of the 'Wachet auf' hymn text; it's not based on Philipp Nicolai's famous hymn tune, but it's a beautiful work and here it gets the finest performance I have heard. It is only marred by slipshod German pronunciation, especially by the two male singers, with little effort made to enunciate decent German. However, non-German speakers may not be bothered by this. The cantata is followed by the composer's trio sonata BuxWV 266 – a fine work, eccentric in typical Buxtehude manner but very inventive, and beautifully played here with silvery string textures.
Next comes Buxtehude's lovely tenor cantata 'Quemadmodum desiderat cervus', here in a gentle, graceful but somewhat limp rendition which misses out on the joyful quality of the music. Then comes a somewhat duller setting of 'Wachet auf', again by Buxtehude but this one unfamiliar to me. This is followed by an extremely attractive sonata from Philipp Erlebach with a distinctive violino piccolo part, beautifully played here by Nicolette Moonen.
We finish with Bach's BWV 140, its opening movement lively and springy but allowing the chorale melody to get a bit lost amid the busy orchestral activity - a good argument, in my view, for multi-voice choirs to sing the chorale-based movements. The first soprano-bass duet is nicely done, except for the German pronunciation of the bass; the central (single-)tenor chorale is good, apart from mispronunciation of some vowels, and I still prefer multiple tenors in this famous movement. The second duet between Jesus and the Soul is lovely, with excellent soprano and lovely instrumental (in this case oboe) playing.
Altogether, this recording is full of delights in spite of a few irritating faults, and it all adds up to a very enjoyable disc. Buxtehude and Bach make an excellent pairing and the choice of works results in a very well-considered programme, directed with spirit and taste. Recorded sound is lovely, booklet notes are good, and texts and translations are supplied. If you want to hear an irresistibly joyful version of Buxtehude's 'Quemadmodum' cantata, you can find one in 'Buxtehude – Cantatas and Sonatas' performed by Le Concert Brisé directed by William Dongois:
Cantatas & Sonatas