Notes and Editorial Reviews
BACH Singet dem Herr. Komm, Jesu komm! Der Geist hilft. Jesu, meine Freude. Ich lasse dich nict. Fürchte dich nicht. Lobet den Herrn • Bo Holten, cond; Flemish RCh •
GLOSSA 922205 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 69:43
BACH Der Geist hilft. Komm, Jesu, komm. Jesu, meine Freude. Fürchte dich nicht. O Mensch bewein.1 Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn.1 Meine Seele erhebt den Herren1 • Julian Podger, cond; Trinity Baroque; James Johnstone (org)1 • RAUMKLANG 2601
Just as the paths to enlightenment are many and diverse, so, too, are the ways to present Bach’s motets on disc, or so it seems. The first issue, obviously, is what to record, and on the vast
majority of motet albums the canonical six, BWV 225–230, are sung, though the order of presentation varies greatly—appropriately, since the motets are independent of one another, and we do not know precisely when they were composed. Recently two discs each of five and seven motets respectively have come to my attention. The five-motet programs (Podger and Matthias Jung on Tacet) challenge the authenticity of BWV 230, Lobet den Herrn, consigning it to the oblivion that is the fate of virtually all such authenticity-challenged works, regardless of whatever merits they may once have seemed to possess. The two seven-motet discs (Holton and the Hilliard Ensemble on ECM) acknowledge the possibility that Ich lasse dich nicht, BWV Anh. 159, may have passed the authenticity test, despite the questions about its authorship that have lingered for more than two centuries. The New Grove Bach Family unambiguously assigns it to Bach’s older brother, Johann Christoph. After noting that the oldest (1712) manuscript source begins in Bach’s own hand but was completed by a student, Philip David Kräuter, Oxford’s Bach Composer Companion dismisses the attribution to Johann Christoph as “speculative” and lists it with the authentic works. Issues of program aside, the presenter must then decide whether to use instrumental accompaniments. The a cappella tradition persisted for more than a century, until more recent research suggested that colle parte (doubling) instruments may have been the prevailing fashion in Bach’s day. A set of parts for Der Geist hilft (BWV 226) has survived, but there are none for the other motets. Accompanied performances have become common, if not prevalent. In such cases, of course, it is up to the conductor to specify the instruments to be used. Both Holten and Podger have chosen to sing the motets with continuo, but without instruments backing the upper parts. Finally, or almost finally, there is the matter of the size of the chorus. The monster chorus, which older listeners will recall fondly or otherwise, has gone the way of the dinosaur, at least for recording purposes. What was once known as a chamber choir—three to six voices per part—has become the norm, and the Rifkin revolution has made its mark as well. Podger, like Hilliard, has opted for one-to-a-part performances (eight singers altogether, since most of the motets call for a double choir). Holten professes to favor the Rifkin formulation with regard to the cantatas, but concluded that the motet singers require more support. Strangely echoing Bach’s 1730 “Short but much-needed outline for a well regulated church music,” Holten uses three singers per part.
Holten, like all of his predecessors with whom I am familiar, presents the motets consecutively as an anthology, without distractions. Podger, on the other hand, has assembled a more varied program, interspersing the motets with unharmonized chorale tunes, organ preludes, and a brief Responsorium by Henrich Schütz. Because the final chorale of Der Geist hilft may have been composed separately from the rest of that motet, he separates the two with a brief, chanted intonation.
Which to choose? Podger wins hands-down for novelty, no small consideration for such familiar fare. Moreover, it’s not gratuitous novelty. Obviously, his program is no more historically accurate than Holten’s, since the four (or seven) motets would never have been sung together in Bach’s time, but he does manage to create at least a degree of context that sets his disc apart from the other motet discs. Although both discs are very well sung, I agree with Holten that, overall, the larger ensemble yields a more satisfying result. Podger’s cleanly recorded disc is intriguing. Holten has cathedral ambience and marvelous performances that place his disc near the top of my list, along with those by Marlow (Conifer), Kuijken (Accent), and Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi).
FANFARE: George Chien
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