BACH, J.S.: Motets, BWV 225-230 (Judy Lieber/ Scholars Baroque Ensemble) (Naxos: 8.553823)
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Motets in the 18th century were used to open the Mass and were simple in format. Bach made them much more than that, probably with the help of a much finer group of choristers than normal. They were probably written for special occasions, probably funerals, though only Der Geist hilft is known to have been used for that purpose on October 24, 1729.
The first five motets on this disc use complex five and eight-part writing, with a small instrumental ensemble. There is still some uncertainty on the scoring that would have been used, the detailed parts for Der Geist, which exist, may not be typical.
They are all in the German sacred tradition, but their length was unusual, the 11 sections of Jesu, meine Freude, being one of the most extensive motets written at that time. Bach's interest in differing formats is demonstrated by his 'concerto' style for Singet dem Herrn, which is in a fast-slow-fast format, while Der Geist hilft begins with a 'concerto' like movement.
They were written between 1723 and 1730 and their origin is well documented, but Lobet den Herrn is of doubtful origin. Why for instance would he suddenly revert back to four part writing? It is also, by comparison with the others, short in terms of length. It certainly comes from a composer of merit, though many would believe it was from the pen of a capable Kappelmeister.
The texts are mostly taken straight from the bible, though freely composed poetry is used in Komm, Jesu, komm, Bach's writing in all motets having a gravity that would substantiate their sombre purpose.
The performers, The Scholars Baroque Ensemble, have made some major recordings for Naxos, including Handel's Messiah in its original format. That was described in Classic CD as \the best Messiah at any price". The group are one of the busiest in Europe, and though totally British, work out of Spain, where their musical advisor, David van Asch, is resident. It is a unique foundation of being a musical cooperative, each member having an equal 'voice' in performing decisions.
Presently the Scholars are touring the Motets, and, as in all their Naxos discs, the recording was made shortly after public performances. It was taped in the small Rosslyn Hill Chapel in the London suburb of Hampstead during February 1996, one of the finest acoustics in the UK.