I'm not usually one to judge a disc by its cover, but this
cover is very interesting. Signum are clearly hoping to appeal
to new audiences with this sort of design. Presumably the idea
is to draw younger listeners into Bach's world, but it is more
likely that they are aiming at the already established, and
considerably more senior, cross-over market. Image is clearly
important here; it's not often you meet an endorsement ad for
the choir's tailor on the back of the liner. And the liner itself
is much more in the rock-and-roll tradition than the classical:
it is a single sheet that unfolds to reveal a large, stylised
image of the choir on the back, presumably to stick on your
The performances are good but are very much what the packaging
would lead you to expect. The singing is crisp and accurate,
but the tempos are often fast and unyielding. The polyphonic
movements are sung with a ping to the accents of each note.
It’s not all unaccompanied, but it is all a cappella
in style. Voces8 seem to be a Swingle Singers type of group,
and their Bach is designed to highlight their vocal agility
and the precision of their close harmony textures.
The group is made up of former choristers from Westminster Abbey,
so, as you'd expect, they really know the notes. They are joined
by two female sopranos, who are good but are a mixed blessing.
Obviously, boy trebles wouldn't fit into this kind of sexed-up
Bach, but the female voices also stand out. They occasionally
have some tuning problems as well, suggesting they are not quite
up to the standard of their male colleagues.
The choir have instrumental accompaniment, thanks to the Senesino
Players; an orchestra named after a castrato, what are they
trying to tell us with that? But the instrumentalists take a
back seat, partly through Bach's refusal to write them any independent
parts, but more significantly through the balance of the recording,
which clearly prioritises the voices.
There are no movement divisions within the motets, and each
occupies a single track. The way the motets are performed is
similarly continuous, with very little pause between each of
the movements. That may or may not improve the coherency of
the result, but is less of an issue than the way that even individual
phrases within choruses are run into each other. It is as if
the producers are trying to avoid even the briefest of silences,
which often robs the music of its poise.
It lacks gravitas as well, but this is probably the point where
individual tastes come into play. In their pursuit of new audiences,Voces8
and Signum seem unconcerned about alienating the existing Bach
constituency. That is fair enough - you can easily go elsewhere
if you want to hear a more traditional reading of this music
- but what this one offers is fun. The period performance movement
has demonstrated how to bring life and energy back to Bach's
choral textures, but none of the big names have produced anything
that is quite as much fun as this. Obviously, this isn't the
last word when it comes to Bach's Motets, but it brings an interesting
new angle to the music, and possibly a new audience too.