In the motets of Bach and Brahms, one always hopes for the great and the good. While the best known of Bach's choral works -- the B minor Mass -- and the best known of Brahms' choral works -- Ein deutsches Requiem -- are huge works with soloists and orchestra, their motets are more intimate, more direct, and much more personal pieces. In their austere counterpoints and severe structures, Bach's haunting Jesu, meine Freude and Brahms' frightening Warum ist das Licht gegeben reveal more clearly their composers' harmonic and human characters than their grand and glorious "Sanctus" and "Selig sind."
Or at least they can in great or good performances. Unfortunately, the 1995 and 1997 performances on this two-disc set with Michel Corboz leading the Ensemble Vocal de Lausanne are neither great nor good, but simply mediocre. Tonally sumptuous and intonationally secure, the Lausanne singers are far too big for the works, swamping the counterpoint and sinking the structures under towering waves of sound. Corboz is a skillful choral conductor and he clearly knows his way around the scores, but while he can stay on top of Bach's celebratory Singt dem Herrn ein neues Lied and Brahms' sentimental Sehnsucht, Corboz is interpretively over his head in the deeper and darker works. For more bracing Bach, try Koopman's and Harnoncourt's recordings. For more brutal Brahms, try Best, Creed, or Hauschild. For the simply mediocre, try Corboz. Cascavelle's sound is warm and plush, but a bit too pinched in the top and a tad too roomy in the bottom.