John Eliot Gardiner literally has a lifetime of intimate familiarity with J.S. Bach's six motets without independent instrumental accompaniment; he reports that as a boy chorister of 11 or 12 he knew the treble lines to all of them. That familiarity is evident in these exceptionally insightful and exceptionally well-sung performances with the Monteverdi Choir. The group lives up to its reputation as being in the very highest echelon of choirs worldwide, singing these especially treacherous works with almost superhuman precision, immaculate tone and balance, and infectious, unguarded passion. The singers handle Bach's exquisitely interwoven counterpoint with apparent ease even at the outrageously fast but emotionally appropriate tempos that Gardiner takes. He avoids the academic rigidity that can easily prevail in performances of counterpoint this intricate by always maintaining a dancing sense of lightness and buoyancy. The performances are also characterized by a warm intimacy. That's due at least in part the choir's remarkable control of dynamics; at its quietest moments the music comes across as an almost hushed whisper. That, in combination with the stellar engineering, creates the impression that the listener is being treated to a private performance by singers nearly close enough to reach out and touch. At the same time there is no sense of crowding and the performers have plenty of room for their singing to ring out brilliantly. Gardiner deploys a small continuo group colorfully but discreetly, offering an ideally balanced underpinning for the choir. Listeners who want to hear these small masterpieces need look no further than these exemplary and thoroughly engaging performances. Highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227|
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