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Motets (JS Bach, et al)

Ensemble Pygmalion/Raphaël Pichon (Harmonia Mundi)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Works by JS Bach, Bertolusi, Gallus and Gabrieli
Ensemble Pygmalion/Raphaël Pichon
Harmonia Mundi HMM902657   74:38 mins


Following its widely acclaimed recording of Bach’s four Missae, or short masses (BWV 233-236), Pygmalion, under its founder and director Raphaël Pichon, has addressed the motets. With a view to presenting them in an historical context, Pichon has included motets by four 16th-century composers – Vincenzo Bertolusi, Jacob Handl (or Gallus), Hieronimus Praetorius and Giovanni Gabrieli. These are among a collection of motets from Florilegium Portense, first published in Leipzig in 1603 and, in its later expanded edition, ordered by Bach for his singers at the Thomasschule.

Pichon’s programme is framed by Bach’s most joyful motets, Lobet den Herrn and Singet dem Herr ein neues Lied. Here, and generally, Pichon favours brisk tempos and draws lively and crisply articulated singing from his vocal ensemble. Textures are luminous and transparent, though just occasionally I found phrases a shade too clipped. But these are performances that are full-blooded and generously endowed with illustrative vocal gestures which enhance the text. Indeed, the attention afforded the texts is one of the great virtues of this singing.

Where called for, Pichon fields a discreetly stylish basso continuo, whose diverse colours – provided by bowed and plucked strings, organ and harpsichord – lend a pleasing dimension to the whole. It is a shame that the early motet, Ich lass dich nicht, BWV Anh.159 has not been included. Bach’s authorship has long been questioned, but current thinking favours it as a genuine and affecting product of his pen.

Full texts are provided and Pichon’s own short essay reveals empathy and modesty.


Nicholas Anderson