The third day of the 27th Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music's journey from Hanseatic to Adriatic stopped off in the spiritual Catholic/Protestant borders of Germany in the latter half of the 17th Century for an intimate session entitled "Life and Soul", which turned out to be a resoundingly cheerful evening, despite all the prayers and laments.

© Dorothea Heise
© Dorothea Heise

Robin Blaze often appears these days singing ensemble works so it was a great pleasure to hear him in a solo recital. I think it is fair to admit that his is not the strongest of counter-tenor voices around and he was feeling the strain a little by the end, but that was hardly surprising given the demanding programme he sang for us, with all his usual commitment, understanding and grace. The occasional catch in the voice or hesitant low note was a price well worth paying for a challenging, absorbing and uplifting recital. And what a programme it was - a beautifully compiled selection of relatively obscure German baroque lieder, richly complemented by the accompaniment and orchestral pieces by the Theatre of the Ayre. The Theatre of the Ayre sprang from collaboration resulting from an Arts and Humanities Research Council fellowship grant to Elizabeth Kenny at the University of Southampton several years ago, and a better group of baroque instrumentalists can hardly be envisaged: Elizabeth Kenny's theorbo/lute, Rachel Podger's astoundingly fluent baroque violin, ably abetted by Clare Salaman, the viola da gamba of Alison McGillivray and James Johnstone on harpsichord/organ - the chosen programme meant that his was perhaps the only supporting task, but an important one, well executed.

Robin Blaze started with what was probably the best known of the evening's works, Buxtehude's setting of Psalm 68, Jubilate Domino, which gripped our attention throughout from the lengthy and spirited viola da gamba opening to the final strong, low finishing notes. The programmed O Jesu, nomen dulce by Heinrich Schütz was replaced by his less well known O Süßer, O freundlicher, an intense and thoughtful prayer. In contrast, one of the more modern works of the evening was a setting of Psalm 6 by Telemann, Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht, whose plea for mercy culminated in a fast and furious supplication where the word plötzlich featured rapidly and repeatedly - a true test for a non-native German speaker to which Mr Blaze rose extremely well. Splitting these two was Lamento sopra la morte di Ferdinando III by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer - apparently a violinist of note as was apparent in the rich and flowing interplay of the violins, despite the melancholic overtones.

The second half opened with the virtuosity of Elizabeth Kenny, playing the fiendishly difficult but absolutely delightful lute minuet Variations on a theme of Locatelli by Joachim Bernhard Hagen. The remainder of the session was mostly given over to Johann Philipp Krieger, firstly with the lied O Jesu, du mein leben and then a rather unusual but very effective combination of violin, viola da gamba and lute continuo in the lively Sonata in G major, all beautifully played. The concert concluded with one man and a lute, in Krieger's plaintive, eloquently despairing reflection on solitude An die Einsamkeit rendered by Robin Blaze with clear, plaintive, eloquent despair.

Altogether, the recital had a really unified feel to it - perfectly balanced and so well chosen; nothing picked for novelty or rarity alone but each piece earning its place. Clearly the players and singer had all worked together many times before and their obvious enjoyment of the music, together with its masterful execution, greatly enhanced our appreciation of this elegant exploration of lesser-known German baroque music.