Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Komm, Jesu, komm BWV 229 [9:19]
Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir BWV 228 [8:17]
Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden BWV 230 [6:03]
Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf BWV 226 [8:12]
Jesu, meine Freude BWV 227 [21:12]
Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied BWV 225 [12:51]
La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
rec. live, Sint-Carolus Borromeuskerk, Antwerp, June 1992
ACCENT ACC24331 [64:51]
The interesting thing about Kuijken’s performances of the Bach motets is that he gives us the version with orchestral accompaniment. This means that the music feels very different from those a capella versions that have become much more common these days, or even those with organ alone. The extra instrumental layer gives the choral line extra support that I found very enjoyable, even if I wouldn't want to discard my version from The Sixteen. The strings provide a warm cushion, and they blend well with both the organ and the voices.
The real treat comes when there are winds too, though, as there are in three of the motets, and those oboes deserve the most credit of all. They add an extra air of plangency to the penitential Komm, Jesu, komm, and they add a fruity, almost aristocratic air to Der Geist hilft Unser Schwacheit an. They then veritably chuckle their way through the opening of Singet dem Herrn, and they are, on the whole, a huge gain.
The choral singing is excellent throughout, and the recording setup helps, too, with the two choirs very keenly balanced in the left and right speakers so that Bach’s antiphonal effects are given just the right level of impact.
In Komm, Jesu, komm they are precise and weighty, while achieving just the right level of swing, if that's the word, in “Du best der rechte Weg”. Fürchte dich nicht, on the other hand, feels warmer and more mellow, as befits the tone of the words. Lobe den Herrn bounces along delightfully. I didn't like the way Kuijken plays with tempo at “Seine Gnade unde Wahrheit”, but that's primarily a matter of taste.
Der Geist hilft begins with a very upbeat tempo, but then relaxes into something pleasingly expansive at “Du heilige Brunst”, which I really liked. Jesu meine Freude takes the listener on a real journey. The repetitions of the chorale tune anchor the work’s structure, but the intervening music becomes ever more ambitious in a way that had me marvelling at its scale by the end. Singet dem Herrn is a lovely way to end the disc, bustling with jolly good humour, but sounding broad and open for the interlude of “Wie sich ein Vater erbarmet.”
Like I said, I wouldn’t want to get rid of my unaccompanied versions of these miniature masterpieces, but Kuijken provides a very welcome alternative in good sound and excellent diction. The performances are live, but there isn’t a peep out of the audience. The booklet includes a useful essay, together with German texts and English translations.