In today’s world, at least where church music is revered and celebrated, no one doubts that Leipzig was J.S. Bach’s town, no questions asked. Of course, this notion is presumptuous, not to mention grossly unmindful of the fact that before Bach lay an illustrious musical lineage of cantors at the city’s famous St. Thomas church. This excellent recording by the first-rate Josquin des Préz Chamber Choir hits us square between the ears with a fascinating array of works by Bach’s St. Thomas predecessors, and not only does it put things into a handy historical context (a history that in its entirety reaches back more than 800 years), but it shows that Bach’s precursors were anything but shabby—nothing technician-like or formulaic aboutRead more these guys. You may not have heard of Tobias Michael, Johann Schelle, or Sethus Calvisius, but when you hear the selections by these composers you’ll appreciate the line of succession—a range from the late-16th to the mid-18th century—on a purely artistic level.
Composers Johann Schein and Johann Kuhnau are the best-known pre-Bach Leipzig cantors, and they are well-represented on this program—but the recording’s strength lies in its presentation of a significant number of newly programmed works: no less than seven of the 13 selections are claimed to be world-premiere recordings. Every time I listened to this disc I would find some new surprise and would reach for the track list: “What was that?” I’d say, and immediately press the repeat button while I searched for which (unfamiliar) composer had written this wonderful piece. Choral listening fans, don’t hesitate to add this to your collection; choir directors, be glad that many of the works you hear are available in published editions. This program was a great idea, a big favor to the Bach community and an important addition to the catalog.