Vox Luminis / Lionel Meunier

Bach: Kantaten

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This is an album of Bach cantatas with a difference, and it is a major one: it covers members of the Bach family including Johann Sebastian himself, and, more unusually, his predecessors rather than his sons. This is intriguing for two reasons: first, the works of these composers were not well preserved; second, as performed here by the delicious choir Vox Luminis and leader Lionel Meunier, the music reveals the largely unsuspected influence of these composers on Johann Sebastian. It's not as though Johann Sebastian tried to hide this (in a sketch of his own genealogy, he called Johann Christoph Bach "the profound composer"), but works by these composers have rarely been put together on an album. Generally, the list of Johann Sebastian's influences focuses on the music of Buxtehude, Georg Böhm, and other members of the North German organ school. However, consider Johann Christoph, the first cousin of Johann Sebastian's father, Johann Ambrosius Bach (and also the uncle of Johann Sebastian's first wife, Maria Barbara Bach, his second cousin). Sample the sizable cantata Herr, wende dich und sei mir gnädig, with its sequence of arias that approach the theme of the cantata from different angles and gives the choir other things to do besides provide a foundation of warmth. The range of the finale chorus is also impressive. You are not so far from Johann Sebastian's Cantata No. 4, "Christ lag in Todesbanden," BWV 4; that work was written in 1707 in Arnstadt, the home of the Bach clan. Also included are cantatas by Johann Christoph's father Heinrich Bach (1615-1692), the patriarch of the whole group, from whom little music has survived. His Ich danke dir Gott, a choral cantata probably from the middle of the 17th century, is naturally more Italianate in style, but this too is interesting: contemporary Italian styles had penetrated even to the small town of Arnstadt. The last Bach involved is Johann Christoph's brother Johann Michael Bach, who is also poorly represented on recordings; his Herr, der König freuet sich has a very Bachian splendor. This is a fresh, luxuriously sung and played, and even revelatory recordings.

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