The joint-top billing for countertenor Andreas Scholl and virtuoso recorder player Dorothee Oberlinger is the first hint that Small Gifts isn’t just another countertenor cantatas disc. This is much more varied, with a superb ground of instrumentalists allowed plenty of time in the spotlight.
A program of Bach’s best bits is inevitably a little fragmented, but with two complete Brandenburg Concertos (Nos 2 and 4), the Harpsichord Concerto in F Minor (in a reworking for soprano recorder) and complete cantata Vergnügte ruh, beliebte seelenlust to anchor things, it feels plausible as a program, and certainly more varied in textures than a more conventional line-up.
Scholl brings his trademark sweetness and mossy softness of middle-register to the slow movements, though sometimes an emphasis on diction intrudes on the legato of the lines. The chorale Jesus bleibet meine Freude is delicious, and the darker, more doubtful moments of Vergnügte ruh showcase Scholl’s ability to sour and distort his tone for expressive effect.
But the moments I’ll take away are primarily instrumental. Dmitry Sinkovsky’s exhilarating solos in Brandenburg Concerto No 4, Oberlinger’s gilded filigree in the F Minor concerto, the graceful instrumental interplay in the opening Sonata of Himmelskonig, sei wilkommen (of which only excerpts are recorded). This is chamber music-making of the highest order.