Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Motets Komm, Jesu, Komm BWV229 [8:32] Singet Dem Herrn Ein Neues Lied BWV225 [12:45] Ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn (BWV Anh 159) [5:09] Der Geist Hilft BWV226 [7:31] Jesu, Meine Freude BWV227 [19:53] Furchte Dich Nicht, Ich Bin Bei Dir BWV228 [8:02] Lobet Den Herrn, Alle Heiden BWV230 [6:27]
Frederick Teardo, Benjamin Sheen, Stephen Buzard (organ); Anne Trout (violone); Katherine Rietman (cello)
Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, Fifth Avenue, New York/John Scott
rec. 2013/14, Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York RESONUS RES10152 [68:34]
Bach’s six Motets BWV 225-230 have been well-served on CD over the years and, being very fond of them, I’ve acquired several recordings. So, I was delighted when this latest release came along. One of the reasons I’ve collected various versions is to experience the variety of scale of forces used by different ensembles. There are large choirs, small ensembles, and those like Kuijken, who advocates one voice per part. One of my favourite versions is that by the Hilliard Ensemble on ECM, where the four soloists are reinforced by four additional voices to form a double choir. Other versions which feature prominently in my collection are the Netherlands Chamber Choir/Peter Dijkstra (Channel Classics), Monteverdi Choir/John Eliot Gardiner (Erato), the Ensemble Vocal de Lausanne/Michel Corboz (Cascavelle) and the Netherlands Chamber Choir/Ton Koopman (Philips). This latest version from Resonus is the only one I have heard featuring an all-male choir.
Composed on a much smaller scale than the passions, masses and cantatas, the motets were written for the most talented singers at Bach’s disposal, to showcase their gifts and talents. Whereas he had to supply music in the form of cantatas for the Sundays of the liturgical year, and on major feast days, the motets were required for special occasions such as weddings, funerals and commemorations. Only Der Geist Hilft BWV226 bears a specific dedication for the funeral of J.H. Ernesti, the rector of the Thomasschule, in 1727.
It is an advantage to have Ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn (BWV Anh 159), not included in all recordings. The authorship of this motet is contested, with both Johann Sebastian and his father’s cousin Johann Christoph (1642-1703) both thought to have had a hand in its composition. It’s a work of high quality, and I’m more than grateful we have it.
Saint Thomas Choir is a leading force in the Anglican choral tradition in the USA. The men are professional singers, and the boys are choristers of the choir school, which was founded in 1919. Apparently, it is the only boarding choir school in the States. From the booklet photograph the choir is about forty-five strong. They have been directed since 2004 by John Scott. Rather than an a capella version, the voices here are doubled with organ, violin and cello. The colla voce instrumentation remains discreet and unobtrusive, contributing effectively to the texture of the music by reinforcing the bass line with depth and body.
The choir bring a sense of freshness, vigour and refinement to these works. John Scott has achieved very high standards of discipline and rhythmic precision. Intonation is pristine. Clarity of the polyphonic textures is scrupulously delineated and diction is audible at all times. Singet Dem Herrn Ein Neues Lied BWV225 is a case in point. There’s a diaphanous quality to the singing, where they inject the music with a sense of joy and light. Listening to this motet alone is an uplifting experience. The reverence and expression conveyed in the opening words of Komm, Jesu, Komm BWV229 sets the mood which follows, one of sombre nobility. Furchte Dich Nicht, Ich Bin Bei Dir BWV228, in contrast, is upbeat, exquisitely phrased and crisply articulated. Jesu, Meine Freude BWV227, the longest of the motets, with its many sections, never gives the impression of being fragmented.
The favourable acoustic of Saint Thomas Church accords an ambience of space and air around the voices, conferring an aura of luminosity on the music. Scholarly annotations have been provided by Baroque specialist, John Butt. Latin texts with English translations are included. This is an impressive release, and one that I will be returning to often.