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Reviewer: Richard Wigmore

The billing looked promising. Dominik Wörner is a seasoned Bach specialist and Alfredo Bernardini’s Zefiro are among the most spirited of period bands. With Bernardini’s own charismatic oboeplaying to the fore, accompaniments in these solo bass cantatas, saturated by death-longing, are a delight: nimble (single strings are used), subtly nuanced, always minutely sensitive to Bachian rhetoric. There’s an intimate rapport between singer and players, epitomised by the blithe oboe-bass duetting, animated by burbling bassoon, of the aria ‘Endlich, endlich will mein Joch’ in No 56, and the interweaving of voice and solo violin (poetically shaped by Olivia Centurioni) in No 158’s central aria.

Wörner’s light, agile baritone is at its most persuasive in these arias and in the celestial dance that closes Ich habe genug, No 82. Reactions to singers are notoriously subjective, of course. Yet elsewhere, while I admired his thoughtful phrasing and expressive diction, I too easily tired of his dryish, monochrome timbre. In No 82’s sublime lullaby ‘Schlummert ein’, performed in the version with oboe da caccia, Wörner and Bernardini choose a natural, flowing tempo and add telling touches of ornamentation. But I was left unmoved, here and in the burdened opening arias of Nos 82 and 56. With richer, more colourful voices and a more palpable sense of involvement, Matthias Goerne (Decca, 4/00), Thomas Quashthoff (DG, 1/05) and, in No 56, Peter Harvey (with John Eliot Gardiner – SDG, 1/06) all drew me far more deeply into these dramas of the soul.

Three oboe-rich arias from lesser-known cantatas make a welcome bonus, especially the one from No 26 where voice and a hyperactive oboe trio vie in their denunciation of the world’s vanity. Zefiro’s playing remains an abiding pleasure. Yet for my taste, Wörner’s clean, stylish singing never seems quite enough in some of Bach’s most searching and, it’s tempting to add, intensely personal music.

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