Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
Much as I enjoy the work of Johann Sebastian Bach (1695-1750) I admit that his motets rank lower in my estimation than his Passions and cantatas but to ignore or even dismiss the motets is to deprive myself of some excellent music. It has to be said that the plethora of interpretations on the many and various recordings available make it difficult to know where to start. My general advice is to pick a conductor or a choir you know and trust and go with them and while Sigiswald Kuijken and La Petite Bande are not my go-to of choice (that would be Suzuki and his Bach Collegium Japan, since you ask) they are by no means a poor choice. Another question we have to ask when considering the motets is how they are performed. Like Handel and other baroque greats some like the bells and whistles of a full choir and orchestra while others prefer the less is more approach and go with a just four vocalists and perhaps even dispense with the instruments entirely. There are pros and cons on both sides and, in my opinion at least, there is little chance of knowing for certain what Bach intended as the evidence is not there. In this recording, made live in the Netherlands in 1992, La Petite Bande and Sigiswald Kuijken present something between the "authentic" early performance style and a general choral sound, with three voices per part. Two matters arise from this: firstly, the CD under review is a re-issue so Bach collectors will need to check before purchasing and secondly, the audio quality is of its time. If you are used to the SACD standard set by Suzuki on his BIS releases this re-issue is not so clean and bright. It is perfectly listenable but the fact that I noticed the quality on my system (reasonable CD player with quality speakers) tells me that it cannot rank as a best buy. The motets themselves are numbered BWV 225-230 and range in length from the six minutes of "Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden" ("Oh Praise The Lord, All Ye Nations") to the epic 20 minutes of "Jesu, Meine Freude" ("Jesus My Joy") which shows us what a flexible term motet can be. In brief I enjoyed the music, the vocal performances are generally excellent and the instrumental accompaniment not bad - but not as accomplished as the singing - but, in my opinion, there are better recordings available.
The opinions expressed in this article are
not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed
views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may
not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a
Interested in reviewing music? Find out