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GRAMOPHONE ( 12 / 2018)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

Xenia Löffler’s performances on a 2014 disc of assorted Venetian concertos (10/14) from the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin (of which she is a member) were glowing demonstrations of technical mastery and musical personality, and rightly turned up on the next Gramophone Awards shortlist. Now here she is again with a set of Bach concertos and cantatas in which her handsome musicianship is even more at the centre of things, and even more admirable.

No actual oboe concerto by Bach survives, of course, and the ones here are speculative reconstructions from the harpsichord concertos. BWV1056 is sometimes heard on the violin but sounds made for the oboe when Löffler runs like liquid over the rippling triplets of the first solo, decks the finale’s downward figure with tumbling ornaments or reels out that gorgeous Largo in a jewel of relaxed, airborne lyricism. BWV1061 is and always was the C major Concerto for two harpsichords, so the arrangement presented here for oboe, violin, viola da gamba and bassoon really is for fun. Does it work? Absolutely it does, bursting with colour and counterpoint like a lost Brandenburg. For BWV1055 Löffler switches to oboe d’amore but keeps the texture deliciously light and nimble throughout.

The cantatas both feature oboe alongside solo soprano in one way or another. No 84, exhorting us to be happy with what we have from God, allows a solo oboe to set the tone of contented submission and No 52 – a more dramatic work telling us that the world is a bad place but that God will help us – features three, not least in the first movement of Brandenburg No 1, reset here as an opening Sinfonia, its normally rowdy horns toned down for the occasion. Soprano Anna Prohaska is bright and feisty but somewhat colder than Löffler, and less intimate too, as the top end of her voice sometimes flies away in the church acoustic.

The orchestral playing under Václav Luks is delicately supportive, at all times attentive and neatly moulded to the soloists’ moves. Löffler’s wondrous playing deserves nothing less, though. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her name on the Awards shortlist again.

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