Motets of the Bach Family
Motets by CPE, H, JC, JE, JL, JMI, JS Bach & Drese
Ensemble Polyharmonique; Teatro del Mondo/Andreas Küppers
CPO 555 418-2 59:24 mins
The music of JS Bach’s famous sons is well known, indeed in the second half of the 18th century the renown of Johann Christian and Carl Philip Emmanuel was greater than that of their father. But the Bach family had deep roots and Johann Sebastian took a lively interest in his industrious musical ancestors, archiving much of their music and compiling a list of the family with extensive commentary. Their music is not just a tribute to a remarkable musical dynasty, but offers a fascinating conspectus of Lutheran church music in Central and Northern Germany across a century and a half.
On the evidence of this collection, the earlier Bachs, brothers Heinrich and Johann, were a fairly sober pair producing modest, chorale-like musical settings. The next generation, Johann Christoph and Johann Michael, show a more piquant harmonic side and a livelier engagement with word setting; Johann Michael’s New Year’s Day motet is a particular delight. Clearly much admired by Johann Sebastian, the motet ‘Our light affliction’ by Johann Ludwig balances penitential expressiveness with infectious celebration.
Andreas Küppers directs with stylish engagement, supplying appropriate and attractive ornamentation where required. Recorded in a not-overly resonant acoustic, Ensemble Polyharmonique provides firm vocal lines without being hard edged. In some cases, the diction could be clearer, but the singers are certainly alive to the abundant expressive opportunities offered by this repertoire.