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BACH FAMILY MOTETS
Johann Christian BACH (1642 – 1703)

1. Lieber Herr Gott
Johann Bach (1604 – 73)

2. Unser Leben ist ein Shatten
Johann Michael BACH (1648 – 94)

3. Herr, du lässest mich erfahren
4. Nun hab’ich überwunden

Johann Christoph BACH

5. Es ist nun aus
6. Der Gerechte, ob er gleich
7. Ich lasse dich nicht
8. Fürchte dich nicht

Johann Michael BACH

9. Sei lieber Tag willkommen
Johann Ludwig BACH (1677 – 1731)

10. Unserer Trübsal
11. Das ist meine Freude
Choir of Clare College Cambridge/Timothy Brown. Liz Kenny (theorbo), Helen Gough (bass violin), Karl Dexter (organ)
Recorded St.Bartholomews, Orford 1995
REGIS RRC 1045 [53:52]



‘I don’t know if you are aware of the fact that J.S. Bach had between twenty and thirty children; and I guess that goes for Mrs.Bach too’.

The immortal words of Victor Borge, but this Regis issue serves to remind us that the Bachs were no mere family but a veritable musical dynasty. None of the composers represented here was a child of the great J.S., however. They are, briefly, Johann Bach, J.S.’s great uncle, town musician in Erfurt; Johann Christoph Bach, a cousin of J.S. who was based in Arnstadt and later in Eisenach; Johann Michael, another cousin who was also J.S.’s father-in-law; and finally a third cousin, Johann Ludwig, who spent most of his life as a court musician in Meiningen.

There is some very fine music on this disc, and it receives performances from Brown and the Clare College Choir which do it full justice. The opening J.C. Bach motet, Lieber Herr Gott, is a good example. A short piece (4:05), it nevertheless contains much that is of interest both rhythmically and harmonically, and builds to a satisfyingly affirmative conclusion.

I found, though, the next track, the motet Unser Leben ist ein Schatten (Our life is a shadow) by Johann Bach, the earliest composer on the disc, to be the most interesting piece, with its intriguingly furtive opening passage. The ‘shadowy’ quality is brilliantly evoked with flitting duets in the solo voices and sudden pauses. The accompaniment is most discreet – just a theorbo (bass lute) and string bass, but quite adequate to support the very delicate singing. I particularly appreciated the great sense of colour in the vocal writing, though I’m not sure the abrupt ending actually works.

Johann Michael is represented by three pieces, and Herr, du lässest mich erfahren will be of great interest to those who already know, for example, the J.S. Bach motet Singet dem Herrn. Johann Michael allows a chorale melody to emerge, whose sturdiness is contrasted with more florid solo writing, as Johann Sebastian was to do in the later work.

There are just two pieces here by Johann Ludwig. Unserer Trübsal begins with a slow section in which the contrite opening phrase is repeated over and over to great expressive effect. The quick middle section contains vocal writing of considerable athleticism, a quality which recurs in the dancing finale of Das ist meine Freude.

The motets are performed by a group of about twelve voices. This sounds like a very small number, especially given the amount of double choir music here; but it works superbly, mainly because the voices are so good and so well matched. The singing is ‘well-mannered’, but certainly not bloodless, and the instrumental support, though inconspicuous, is always stylish. A fine issue.


Gwyn Parry-Jones


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