The Altbachisches Archiv is the name commonly given to a collection of pieces by older members of the Bach family which was lovingly and assiduously collected by its most illustrious member, Johann Sebastian. Though published in the mid-Thirties, the manuscripts themselves disappeared at the end of the Second World War and were recovered from the Ukraine only two or three years ago.
Cantus Cölln performs a generous selection of pieces from the archive, providing the listener with an astonishing conspectus of a unique family achievement. Many, if not all, of the pieces here have been previously recorded, notably by Musica Antiqua Köln/Reinhard Goebel (DG Archiv) and Capella Sancti Michaelis/ Ricercar Consort/Philippe Herreweghe/Erik van Nevel (Ricercar).
Goebel’s anthology more closely compares with the new issue inasmuch as it, too, contains the impressively laid-out cantatas by Johann Christoph Bach, the most original of Bach’s ancestors and the one whom JSB himself is known to have admired and whose music he performed at Leipzig. Especially arresting is the 22-part cantata Es erhub sich ein Streit im Himmel, whose sonorous scoring for four trumpets, drums and strings provides an awesome, Miltonic picture of the war in heaven. Konrad Junghänel directs all with imagination and sound musical judgement.
Elsewhere, his generally accomplished forces project a variety of contrasting images as, for instance, in the poignantly affecting motet ‘Unser Leben ist ein Schatten’ by Johann Bach, the oldest musical representative of the family. The singing is mainly very good indeed, setting the seal on an issue of outstanding interest. Nicholas Anderson