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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1739)
Singet dem Herrn BWV225 (1727) [14.41] (1)
Der geist Hilft BWV226 (1729) [8.01] (2)
Jesu, meine Freude BWV227 (1723) [23.24] (3)
Fürchte dich nicht BWV228 (1726) [8.09] (4)
Komm, Jesu, Komm BWV229 [9.35] (5)
Lobet den Herrn BWV230 (1723) [6.41] (6)
of Wisconsin-Madison Concert Choir/Robert Fountain
rec. 30 March 1984 (1); 31 March 1990 (2); 22 March 1980
(3); 1 April 1989 (4); 15 March 1988 (5); 22 April 1979
(6), Mills Hall (1-4, 6); Central College, Pella, Iowa
OF WISCONSIN-MADISON, SCHOOL OF MUSIC (no
CD number) [70.55]
American choral conductor
Robert Fountain (1917–1996) taught from 1948 until 1970 at
Oberlin College. Then from 1971 until his retirement in 1994
he was on the teaching staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Much of his work there was with the Choral Union and the
Concert Choir. The Concert Choir consisted of some 65 singers
and was considered one of the finest musical groups in the
Since 2000, the Mills Music
Library at UW-Madison has embarked on the ‘Robert Fountain
Legacy Project’, in which it is attempting to make available
the vast quantity of material left behind by Fountain. This
disc, of the Bach motets, is part of that project. The six
motets were recorded live at various times between 1979 and
What is remarkable is the
consistency of choral tone and musical approach in these
recordings. Obviously Fountain must have had a clear idea
about what he was trying to achieve, and went a long way
towards achieving it. Whether this makes for a satisfying
disc, of course, is another matter. I will say at the outset
that I tried very hard to like these performances but found
myself completely out of sympathy with them.
Bach’s motets were all written
for special occasions, the majority of them for funerals.
This means that we can assume that he might have performed
them with something resembling a choir rather than the sort
of one-to-a-part vocal ensemble that may have been used for
the cantatas - and possibly the passions.
I have heard some satisfying
performances of these works given by chamber choirs, but
the choral sound made by the UW-Madison Concert Choir seems
to be too beefy, the choir just feels too large for the works.
There is a good case, in an educational establishment especially,
for performing works anachronistically in order to give students
the chance of performing such great music at a high level.
Fair enough, but I’m not sure I want to hear it.
The choral sound is rich,
pretty well blended and heavily vibrato laden. It would probably
sound very good in Bruckner. But in Bach the choral sound
is congested, because of the vibrato rich quality of the
voices. Individual lines tend to be obscured leaving Bach’s
polyphony sounding like a clogged mess. Its not that the
singers don’t have a good sense of line, they do, but the
choral sound that they are aiming for seems to be unsuitable
for this music. This is a shame, because there is much to
admire in the musicality and phrasing of the choir. Fountain's
tempi are completely apposite for the size of his group,
the pieces are well articulated and lively.
Being live performances,
there is the odd slip in performance. The different motets
do vary as well. Though all suffer occasionally from poor
articulation in the runs; Fürchte dich nicht does
so particularly. The soprano tone is rather pinched in this
motet as well.
The CD booklet includes texts
in German and English as well as notes about the works taken
from the Concert Choir’s own programmes. The last motet, Lobet
den Herrn, is performed with organ and cello continuo.
I can recommend this disc
only to people who might be interested in the work of Robert
Fountain and the art of choral training in the USA. If you
are looking for a good all-round disc of the Bach motets,
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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