Albrecht Mayer's Voices of Bach

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The world's leading oboist plays the great vocal melodies of J.S. Bach on this week's Full Rotation.

Despite the oboe's prominent role in symphony orchestras, there are only a handful of oboe soloists on the scene today, and you can probably count on one hand those who make a living off their instrument. Albrecht Mayer does, in fact, hold down a "day job," as principal oboist of the Berlin Philharmonic (since 1992), but he has also made a string of solo recordings over the past two decades. On his latest album he takes on the chorales, cantatas and sinfonias of J.S. Bach.

Working with the arranger Andreas Tarkmann, Mayer has created versions of Bach's choral works to include the oboe, its figurations darting and weaving around the great blocks of vocal sound. He opens and closes the album with the great chorale Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (What God does, that is well done), a reflection of his own spiritual beliefs. Some of Bach’s best-loved melodies turn up here as well, including Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, in which the plangent oboe melody is balanced with choral interjections; and the chorale Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Sleepers, Wake! A Voice is Calling).

Despite the single-composer focus, Mayer gives us a full range of approaches: he plays it stately and elegant, as in Bach's Italian Cantata BWV 209 -- here transcribed and re-titled as a Concerto for oboe d'amore, strings and continuo – but also lives up to the athletic demands of the instrument, as in the finale to the Concerto for oboe, strings and continuo, which combines themes from Cantatas BWV 105, 170 and 49.

Joining Mayer throughout is The English Concert, one of Europe's finest baroque orchestras, as well as the choir Trinity Baroque, all contributing to an appealing collection that breathes new life into Bach's work.

Albrecht Mayer
Voices of Bach
Decca (UMO)
Available for purchase at