COMPOSERS: Johann Sebastian Bach
LABELS: Soli Deo Gloria
ALBUM TITLE: Bach Motets
WORKS: Jesu meine Freude, Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden; Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, etc
PERFORMER: Monteverdi choir/John Elliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: SDG716
While Philippe Herreweghe said he aspired to be ‘an inspired preacher’ with last year’s disc of Bach motets, John Eliot Gardiner might prefer to see himself as a sort of theological ‘animateur’ – inhabiting Bach’s spiritual world and making it incarnate in performances that never shy away from the shockingly immediate. When the text of ‘Jesu, meine Freude’ calls angrily for the banishment of riches and vain honours before seeking reassurance, the Monteverdi Choir can turn from Rottweiler into lamb in the blink of an eye. It epitomises a text-driven approach that doesn’t simply illuminate the music by living in the dramatic ‘moment’ of an individual word, but has weighed up its function within a wider rhetorical cosmos.
Some might find Gardiner’s approach theatrical; he could persuasively counter that the motets engage unflinchingly with matters of life and death. And if his Erato recording of this repertoire 30 years ago wears its age well at a purely musical level, it’s clear that his understanding of their multi-faceted richness has deepened immeasurably. Fresh insights continually ambush the listener, and while the visceral thrills – the fizzing virtuosic energy of ‘Singet dem Herrn’, the buoyancy of ‘Der Geist hilft’ – are even more airy, the still centre of BWV 227’s
‘Gute Nacht’, and the beautifully nuanced opening of ‘Komm, Jesu, komm’ demonstrate that Gardiner trusts Bach’s simplicity and inwardness as much as he relishes his complexity and drama.