Bach, JS: Motets BWV 225-230

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WORKS: Motets BWV 225-230
PERFORMER: Collegium Vocale Gent/ Philippe Herreweghe


Philippe Herreweghe recently launched his own record label with Mahler, and there’s Brahms in the pipeline, but in the meantime he has recorded Bach. Here, he returns to the motets BWV225-230, works Herreweghe first recorded nearly 30 years ago. In the interim, he says, his understanding has deepened, and he aims to convey Bach’s spiritual intentions with the persuasiveness of an ‘inspired preacher’.

But the disc is also a ‘progress report’, drawing on the fruits of ongoing researches. The one-voice-to-a-part lobby doesn’t wholly convince Herreweghe; he approaches the instrumentation of each motet on a case-by-case basis, cornetto and trombones lending grandeur to a finely-chiselled account of Fürchte dich nicht. Three motets do surrender to one-to-a-part treatment, however, and very successful they are too – the lightness of a deftly-negotiated Lobet den Herrn complements the intimacy of Komm, Jesu, komm (the concluding section of the first part perhaps a touch lacking in spaciousness).


Minimal forces for Jesu, meine Freude (allied to Herreweghe’s judicious tempos) also sidestep the ponderous monumentality that can afflict larger-scale readings. Bookending the disc are two of Bach’s most ebullient motets, and the ricocheting interactions of Singet dem Herrn – the piece that bowled Mozart for six when he heard the Thomanerchor sing it in 1789 – are delivered with clarity and vitality. Occasionally, Herreweghe’s fastidiousness threatens to smother spontaneity, but set alongside the larger forces of Masaaki Suzuki or the resolute one-to-a-part (a cappella) consistency of The Hilliard Ensemble, Herreweghe’s ‘inspired preaching’ will nonetheless find ready converts. Paul Riley