Elizabeth Watts caught international attention when she won the Song Prize at the 2007 Cardiff Singer of the World competition, and her star has risen steadily since, particularly in art song and 18th-century repertoire. This release – her second solo disc – is a testament to her talent in both of these specialties, bringing a lieder singer’s sensibility to a selection of Bach’s most beautiful and best-loved vocal music.
Watts’s warm, focused soprano has an unforced beauty to it, particularly in its luscious middle register. Her diction is excellent, her phrasing graceful, and she demonstrates scrupulous attention to the text – assets honed in recital and which also make her an elegant Bach singer.
That said, it’s not until the second half of this disc that she really shines, the joy and serenity of Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen! and the similarly jubilant aria Ich bin vergnügt showing her at her passionate best. Her coloratura, if not always seamless, is vividly executed, and there’s a genuine smile in the voice.
In lachrymose repertoire such as Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut and Ich wünschte mir den Tod Watts is less persuasive. She sings sweetly, but her interpretations are hampered by a mannered delivery which focuses on detailed word painting to the cost of the music’s overall shape, internalising the emotions of the text in a manner better suited to lieder than to Bach’s portraits of universal grief.
Nevertheless, there’s plenty to admire here not just from Watts but also from the mellifluous playing of The English Concert under Harry Bicket, including two fine obbligato contributions from oboist Katharina Spreckelsen. An excellent disc, if one which stops short of transcendence.