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Bach’s Family – Choral Motets
Johann Christoph Friedrich BACH (1732-1795)
Ich lieg und schlafe ganz mit Frieden, Wf XV:1 (1780) [13.19]
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, Wf XV:2 (c. 1780) [15.05]
Johann Christoph ALTNICKOL (1720-1759)
Befiehl du deine Wege [20.58]
Nun danket alle Gott (c. 1750) [6.30]
Kammerchor Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius
Sonntraud Engels-Benz (organ)
rec. 2018, Kirche Gönningen, Germany
German sung texts provided - no English translations

The partnership of renowned music director Frieder Bernius and the Kammerchor Stuttgart has been prolific in the recording studio and now presents a new album titled ‘Bach’s Family Choral Motets’ on Hänssler Classic. Employing historically informed performance style, this release comprises of a pair of motets from Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach and Johann Christoph Altnickol respectively.

Leipzig-born J.C.F. Bach, was the fifth and probably the least-known son of the great Johann Sebastian. He was described as the ‘Bückeburg Bach’ after the town in Lower Saxony where he was active as copyist and a professional harpsichordist; Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, believed he was the “strongest player” in performing their father’s clavier works. The first work is the single movement motet Ich lieg und schlafe ganz mit Frieden (I lie and slumber, still and peaceful) for mixed choir (SATB) and organ to a text by Johann Sigismund Kunth. Next the motet in three verses Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Awake, the voice calls to us) scored for four-part choir and organ which is based on Philipp Nicolai’s hymn.

The next two motets are from the pen of Johann Christoph Altnickol who was born in Berna (which is now Sulików, Lower Silesia). Altnickol was not a blood relation of Johann Sebastian, although he studied with him and married his daughter Elisabeth Juliane Friederica. As well as composing, Altnickol was a bass singer who also served as an organist and was proficient on the violin and the cello. Altnickol’s first work is Befiehl du deine Wege (Entrust your way) for four-part mixed choir from a text in twelve verses written by Paul Gerhardt. The final work on the album Nun danket alle Gott (Now thank we all our God) is scored for five-part mixed choir (SSATB) using a text written by Martin Rinckart. The score has been erroneously attributed to J.S. Bach with the number BWV Anh 164.

Frieder Bernius’s direction of the Kammerchor Stuttgart, a maximum of twenty-five singers here, is impressive in every way. Its founding father in 1968, Bernius has maintained a long and distinguished association with the chamber choir and one senses a special affinity between the singers and director. Bernius reliably provides inspirational interpretations of satisfying unity which never overwhelm the listener, are always high on sensitivity and contain considerable reverential expression. Notable, too, are the lovely contributions from organist Sonntraud Engels-Benz. Recorded at Kirche Gönningen, the sound is of first-class quality, being warm, clear and attractively balanced. The booklet essay written by Andreas Glöckner is interesting and informative. Sung German texts are provided but the release, aimed jointly at the English-speaking market, is let down by the disappointing lack of English translations. At less than sixty-minutes, the playing time is rather short measure.

This release of rarely heard sacred choral music from the late-baroque/early-classical period will appeal primarily to the specialist listener. Nonetheless, these performances of sacred motets are both enjoyable and entirely satisfying.

Michael Cookson

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