Yet some of Johann Sebastian Bach’s (1685-1750) seven motets are at least as substantial as some of his cantatas. Just listening to Bach’s motets surely indicates that they must have been intended for use at special events rather than every day performances.
A new recording of these unaccompanied motets, BWV 225 – BWV 230, comes from CPO www.jpc.de/jpcng/cpo/homeand features the Rheinische Kantorei www.rheinischekantorei.de directed by Hermann Max www.hermann-max.de . Also included is the motet BWV Anh. 159, a work that, though originally thought a genuine Bach work, later had its authenticity questioned due to the only existing manuscript, from his Weimar period (1712-1713), being written partly in Bach’s hand and partly by a pupil. Though varying in style from Bach’s later motets it surely is very much a Bach work.
In the rarer motet, Ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich den, BWV Anh. 159 it is lovely the way Hermann Max and his choir vary the dynamics so well, managing the different tempi in the various vocal lines brilliantly.
Probably the best known of Bach’s motets is the five part Jesu, meine Freunde, BWV 227. The solemn nature of this motet probably means that it was also intended for use during a funeral service. The six verses from Johann Franck’s hymn are separated by Bach’s setting of verses from Romans 8. Again it is not known when this motet was written. CPO has helpfully given separate tracks for each section. There is a delicacy and control that is beautifully done and some lovely flowing, free sections. With Denn das Gesetz des Geistes (For the Law of the Spirit) the tenor and soprano solo voices provide a lovely free flowing section and in Trotz dem alten Drachen (Despite the Ancient Dragon) the part writing is wonderfully sung.
The choir handle to perfection Bach’s fugal writing Ihr aber seid nicht fleischlich, sondern geistlich (You, however, are not of flesh, but of the Spirit), each line so clear. There is a lovely flowing So aber Christus in euch ist (Thus is Christ within you) and a clear and radiant Gute Nacht, o Wesen (Good Night, O creature).
After a rich and full, yet clear So nun der Geist der jesum (But if the Spirit of Jesus), which is full of joy, the concluding Weicht, ihr Trauergeister (Yield, dolorous spirits) has the feel of a chorale where the singing is exemplary.
There seems to have been some doubt about the authenticity of the motet Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden, BWV 230. Again it is not known when it was written but here it receives a joyous performance, full of lovely part writing which the singers handle so well. There is a lovely central section that is so well integrated by this choir.
Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir, BWV 228 was also probably written for funeral or memorial services and also cannot be dated. The upper voices of the Rheinische Kantorei again show their fine quality, firm, never strident, the singers so agile.
We know that the motet Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, BWV 226 was written for the funeral of Johann Heinrich Ernesti, the Rector of the Thomasschule, at the Paulinerkirche, Lepizig on 20th October 1729. Here the choir show fine control of the various vocal lines, bringing out the intricacy of Bach’s writing with a fine forward flow and a chorale like ending.
The motet Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 225 certainly does not have any of the feel of a funeral piece, quite the contrary. Some commentators have suggested that it may have been a New Year work or even written for the birthday of Friedrich August I on 12th May 1727. It has also been suggested that Bach may have established the practice of using a motet, such as this one, for choral practice, though given the substantial nature of the piece I would favour the idea of its use on a special occasion.
Either way, this joyous work that concludes this disc receives some lovely singing; the text and rhythm nicely pointed up. The way this choir weaves its way around all of Bach’s twists and turns so tautly, is impressive. There is a beautifully sung Aria with such clarity of vocal line and diction and a terrific final Lobot den Herrn (Praise the Lord) to end.
The Rheinische Kantorei under their director Hermann Max is a tremendously accomplished choir. The recording from Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Koln is very fine.