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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 225 [17.06]
Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, BWV 226 [8.07]
Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227 [19.22]
Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir, BWV 228 [8.36]
Komm, Jesu, komm, BWV 229 [8.08]
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Howard Arman
Max Hanft (organ)
Günter Holzhausen (violone)
rec. 2017/18 Herkulessaal, Munich
BR-KLASSIK 900523 [61.19]

From over two hundred of J.S. Bach’s cantatas that survive, the vast majority are for church use, almost always intended for a specific feast or function in the Lutheran church calendar. Bach’s set of motets form a far smaller grouping; of course, some may have been lost, but they are no less important. Much academic research has gone into discovering their intended purpose of these motets and they are thought to have been mainly products of Bach’s Leipzig years. It has been said they were written as private commissions tailored for specific occasions such as funeral services. It seems that only the motet Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, BWV 226 was certainly used for a specific funeral, namely the burial of Professor Johann Heinrich Ernesti, a Leipzig rector. The motet Lobet den Herrn alle Heiden, BWV 230 has traditionally been included in this group, although its attribution is in doubt, which is probably why it has not been included here.

The highlight of this album is Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (Sing to the Lord a new song!), BWV 225, written for double choir and cast in three movements with a text based on Psalm 149. Quite beautifully performed here, this virtuosic motet, which praises the Lord in all his works, is documented as greatly impressing Mozart on a visit to Leipzig in 1789. The unity and impressive clarity of the chorus throughout this set are gratifying and I appreciate the way that precision does not come at the expense of expression and character. In addition to these qualities are unerring vitality and reverential expression. The Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks is accompanied by a modest basso continuo of violone and organ, providing fresh, clear and colourful support.

Produced under studio conditions from sessions in 2017 and 2018 in the renowned acoustic of Herkulessaal, Munich, this recording has agreeably bright sound and satisfying clarity, depth and balance. Jörg Handstein’s essay, entitled ‘Funeral Music - But Not Always Funereal - Motets by Johann Sebastian Bach’, is helpful and interesting. Sung German texts are included in the booklet but for an album jointly aimed at both the German and English-speaking market, the lack of English translations of the texts is disappointing and a real drawback.

The choir is in first-class form, yet I wouldn’t want to dispense with the account of the motets Suzuki presides over performances which are as impressive as any I have heard from the specialist period performers on the early music scene today. They were recorded in 2009 at Kobe Shoin Chapel, Japan and one is unlikely to hear finer and more disciplined yet affectionate sacred singing. Suzuki has recorded the six motets BWV 225-230 together with O Jesu Christ, mein's Lebens Licht, BWV 118 and Ich lasse dich nicht, BWV Anh. 159. His period instrument accompaniments range from a single organ, to strings and combinations of strings and wind instruments.

These performances are both uplifting and reverential.

Michael Cookson


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