LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
WORKS: Motets, BWV 225, 226, 227, 228, 229, 230; Fantasia on Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 713
PERFORMER: Sarum Consort/Andrew Mackay; Robert Quinney (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: CD GAU 218
Although numbered as if a set, BWV 225-30, Bach’s motets were composed at different times, for different occasions, in different styles and for different forces. What they do have in common is some exceptionally beautiful writing for voices, from the gentle, intimate ‘Komm, Jesu, komm’ to the elaborate finesse of the exquisite ‘Singet dem Herrn’.
The Sarum Consort sings the motets one-to-a-part, a nod towards likely period practice which is somewhat undermined by its choice of organ continuo as sole instrumental accompaniment (Bach probably used winds and strings to double the vocal lines). Still, the results are very persuasive – sprightly tempi and airy textures bespeak a performance of engaging delicacy, the voices gently buoyed by Robert Quinney’s sensitive continuo.
Tafelmusik’s larger numbers sound more forceful but are also stilted and awkward at times. Phrasing is sometimes exaggerated, rhythms go flaccid and the continuo – particularly the organ – can be obtrusive, lending undue heaviness to both vocal texture and tempo.
There are two outstanding recordings of the motets I would not want to be without. For sheer beauty of sound, in terms of both singing and recording quality, René Jacobs’s 1995 Harmonia Mundi set is without equal (and is currently available as part of a specially-priced boxed set that also includes the Christmas Oratorio). But if I had to choose just a single performance, it would be Sigiswald Kuijken’s on Accent – the rhythmic ebullience and tender expressiveness of the singing perfectly capture Bach’s ability to touch the heart and uplift the spirit. Graham Lock