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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Komm, Jesu, komm (BWV 229) [08:48]
Jesu, meine Freude (BWV 227) [20:31]
Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf (BWV 226) [07:10]
Fürchte dich nicht (BWV 228) [07:35]
Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (BWV 225) [12:41]
La Petite Bande (Inge Van de Kerkhove, Marie Kuijken (soprano); Petra Noskaiová, Patrizia Hardt (contralto); Stefan-Alexander Rankl, Jens Weber (tenor); Jan Van der Crabben, Stephan Schreckenberger (bass); Sigiswald Kuijken, Sara Kuijken (violin); Masanobu Tokura (violin, viola); Marleen Thiers (viola); Kaji Takahashi (cello); Patrick Beaugiraud (oboe); Natalia Alves Chahin, Ann Vanlancker (oboe da caccia); Rainer Johannsen (bassoon); Tom Devaere (violone); Frank Agsteribbe (organ))/Sigiswald Kuijken
rec. December 2003, the Academiezaal, St Truiden, Belgium. DDD

In Bach's time motets were still a part of the liturgy in Lutheran churches. The repertoire consisted mainly of pieces written during the late 16th and 17th centuries, mostly in the 'stile antico' - called 'prima prattica' in Italy. That said, motets which were composed in the second half of the 17th century contained elements of the 'seconda prattica' as well. It seems Bach and most of his contemporaries did not feel the need to write motets to replace the traditional repertoire. Some members of his family, in particular Johann Christoph and Johann Michael, did write motets which have been preserved thanks to Johann Sebastian who included them in the so-called 'Alt-Bachische Archiv'. Another composer who wrote motets was Bach's friend and colleague Georg Philipp Telemann.
Bach did compose motets, but all of them were intended for special occasions, such as funerals and memorial services. How many he composed is not clear. In 1802 Bach's first biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, refers to "many single- and double- choir motets". But only a handful have come down to us, and several of them are the subject of debate among scholars in regard to their authenticity. A motet like 'Ich lasse dich nicht' (BWV Anh III, 159) is sometimes thought to be written by Johann Sebastian, whereas others attribute it to Johann Christoph, a cousin of Bach's father. In most recordings of Bach's motets it is left out. The same is true for 'O Jesu Christ, mein's Lebens Licht' (BWV 118), which is sometimes considered a cantata, but is included in the volume with motets in the Neue Bach-Ausgabe. More or less for the same reason many recordings omit 'Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren' (BWV 231), which is almost identical with the second section of the cantata 'Gottlob! nun geht das Jahr zu Ende' (BWV 28), except in text and instrumentation. In this recording another motet, which is included in almost all other recordings, is also omitted: 'Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden' (BWV 230). In the booklet Sigiswald Kuijken writes: "I have serious doubts about the authorship of this piece. Far from being a weak piece, this motet however does not show clearly the same hand as the five other motets which survived in non-suspicious sources; in my opinion it does not bring any additional value, - perhaps even on the contrary". Kuijken refers here to the fact that this motet has survived in a manuscript which was once wrongly thought to be Bach's autograph.
Two aspects of this recording are noteworthy. Firstly, Sigiswald Kuijken believes Joshua Rifkin and Andrew Parrott are right as they think most sacred music by Bach - and many of his German contemporaries - was usually performed with one voice per part. Kuijken has started a series of recordings of cantatas by Bach performed this way, and in this recording the motets are also sung by an ensemble of soloists. Secondly, in all motets the voices are supported by instruments. In the motets for double choir one of the vocal groups is supported by strings, the second by woodwind. Only in the case of 'Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf' instrumental parts in Bach's own hand have been handed down, but it is known that he himself performed motets by others with instrumental support. In general it works well in this recording, although the balance between voices and instruments is sometimes less than ideal, in particular in the first motet on this disc, 'Komm, Jesu, komm', where the oboe tends to overpower the soprano, and the text isn't always clearly audible.
One of the most positive aspects of this interpretation is the attention given to the text and the very precise and sharp articulation. On the whole I am very impressed by the way the text is communicated, with clear dynamic differences in line with the characteristics of the German language. The tempi are mostly rather fast, and the rhythms are delivered with great flair. Sometimes I wished single words to be pointed out with greater strength, like "kracht und blitzt" and "Spott und Hohn" in 'Jesu, meine Freude'. On the other hand, in 'Fürchte dich nicht' the words "nicht" (weiche nicht) and "stärke" (ich stärke dich) are strongly emphasized, which brings the contrast in the text to the fore.
The disc ends with 'Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied'. Of the motets on this disc it is the only one which cannot be directly associated with a funeral or commemoration service. The American Bach scholar Robin A. Leaver has suggested it could have been composed for Reformation day. The heart of this motet is the second section in which the first choir sings an anonymous 'aria', "Gott, nimm dich ferner unser an", whereas the second choir sings the chorale "Wie sich ein Vater erbarmet", which is the third stanza of Johann Gramann's hymn 'Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren' (a paraphrase of Psalm 103). At the end Bach asks for a repeat of this section: "The second verse is as the first, except that the choirs change around; the first choir sings the chorale, and the second the aria". In most recordings Bach's wishes are ignored, and that is also the case here. That is surprising as Kuijken seems so concerned about authenticity - cf. his decision to omit 'Lobet den Herrn'. The only recording I know which follows Bach's instructions is John Eliot Gardiner's of 1980, although he also repeats the text, which is a little dubious. Robin Leaver suggests 'second verse' means: the stanza following the third, i.e. the fourth - this also supports his association of this motet with Reformation day.
The booklet contains very little information on the motets themselves, but Sigiswald Kuijken gives his views on his choices in regard to interpretation. The booklet makes a mess of the second section of 'Singet dem Herrn': the text of the second choir isn't complete, and the original and the translation don't match.
Critical remarks aside, this interpretation is to my knowledge one of the most satisfying, in particular in regard to the relationship of text and music.
Johan van Veen


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