Bach Motets

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The young British crossover a cappella octet Voces8 sounds a bit like the King's Singers and has been advised by its members. These are light, fleet, clear performances, not usually terms associated with Bach's six motets. Even if Bach's contrapuntally weighty and theologically hardcore motets are an odd choice of repertoire for such an ensemble, it's fair to say that fans of the King's Singers will enjoy checking out Voces8. It's a bit of a misnomer for Voces8 to emphasize its status as an a cappella group in connection with this recording, for the motets are accompanied by an organ and a small group of strings. This is the fashion, however, and to go with the cutting-edge graphic design, Voces8 adopts another current trend simply by singing the motets with a small ensemble instead of a choir. The jury is very much out on this, for evidence that Bach's choral music was sometimes performed this way doesn't equal evidence that, in a time of scant material resources incomprehensible to modern performers, these were ideal performances. The chief musical argument in favor of small-group performances is that they enable a kind of madrigalian expressiveness, and here Voces8 achieves mixed results. At times (sample the opening of Jesu, meine Freude, track 4) the quick tempos lead them into mannered singing. But in general there's a commitment here toward putting the meaning of the texts across, and this is ultimately what distinguishes a good Bach vocal performance from a rote one. This commitment is reflected in the translations of the motet texts into English in the booklet -- not just parallel, but line by line, which is a practice more booklet editors ought to follow. This certainly doesn't close any books on Bach's motets, but it's an intriguing and distinctive recording.

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