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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Motets
Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied BWV 225 [12:38]
Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir BWV 228 [7:52]
Jesu, meine Freude BWV 227 [20:12] 
Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf BWV 226 [7:32]
O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht BWV118b [9:38]
Komm, Jesu, komm BWV 229 [8:09]
Ich lasse Dich nicht, du segnest mich denn BWV Anh. 159 [5:33]
Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden BWV 230 [6:20]
St Jacobs Kammarkör; REBaroque/Gary Graden
rec. October 2010 and February 2011, St Jacob’s Church, Stockholm, Sweden
PROPRIUS PRCD 2066 [77:54]

Before you even start listening to this recording, the presentation suggests something rather opulent and special. Tucked into the kind of clamshell box in which you expect to find at least two or possibly three CDs, this release has just the usual single disc for J.S. Bach’s complete Motets in its own card foldout holder. The box also includes a nice glossy booklet with texts in German, Swedish and English, notes on each motet and plenty of photos and background information on the musicians involved.
 
About as far removed from the a cappella Hilliard Ensemble recording from the ECM label which I looked at a few years ago (see review), these are full-fat performances of the Bach motets, with a choir big enough to deliver spectacular antiphonal effects, and an instrumental accompaniment with plenty of solidity to go along with a transparent period sound and limber lightness of touch which prevents everything sliding into early/mid 20th century heaviness.
 
Hunting for comparisons, the Monteverdi Choir/Gardiner recording on Soli Deo Gloria (see review) has a similarly lively vibe but is a drier recording and rather choir-heavy, with enough sibilance to sail a small ship. The fuller instrumental sound with this Proprius recording means you hear more texture in the accompaniment, where with Gardiner you get the bass line but not a huge amount of anything else. Masaaki Suzuki and his Bach Collegium Japan on BIS (see review) is always an enticing prospect, and in sonority comes closer than Gardiner to the fullness of Gary Graden’s team, though on returning to this recording you do wonder if the buzz-saw lead violin might perhaps have been a little lower in the balance. My feeling with Suzuki is that the motets are treated as jewels which are perhaps just a little too precious, and my liking for the Graden recording comes in large part from the energy and spacious generosity which leaps palpably from your speakers.
 
I’ll go for one more comparison, which is the Collegium Vocale Gent led by Philippe Herreweghe (see review). This is very much the tidied-up single voice to a part kind of interpretation to which many will have become accustomed in recent years, a single organ sometimes providing all of the harmonic support required, the contrast between this and the motets which include winds and strings making for an attractive sequence. There is much to be said for the clean sound of such versions, and a little more variation in instrumental forces in the Proprius version might not have come amiss, though the strings are silenced in Ich lasse Dich nicht, du segnest mich den, pungent bassoons doing the honours amongst some sublime choral polyphony.
 
All things considered this Swedish recording of Bach’s Motets is a resounding success. Concertmaster Maria Lindal has her own little section in the booklet, and it sounds as if she was given a microphone all to herself for the recording. This adds upper register sheen and isn’t much of a problem through speakers but can wear thin through headphones, which also show up little blemishes such as what sounds like an extra little note at 7:02 into Jesu, meine Freude. The acoustic setting for the recording is big and fully in scale for these powerful performances, though gentle subtlety is also very much a part of the musicianship here. The magnificent divided choirs of something like Komm, Jesu, komm are the clincher for me in this recording, turning Bach’s motets into something more like a guilty pleasure than a hair-shirt religious duty. If you give this box as a present make sure you double wrap it with an inner lining of silver foil, such are the deliciously rich and chocolaty rewards inside.
 
Dominy Clements