Like the boys' choirs of the old English cathedrals, that of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig has survived until the present day. In the nineteenth century it faced something of an identity crisis but was helped by the rediscovery of the music of the Thomaskirche's former cantor: Johann Sebastian Bach. It was specifically Bach's unaccompanied and technically brutal motets that exerted an influence on the directors of this 60-voice boys' choir and cemented its reputation -- with the Bach motets as regular performance fare, the group developed impressive intonational precision. Most of the music here is actually by a succession of Thomaskirche cantors of the nineteenth century -- Bach's successors, most of whom are still unknown. The works on the album provide some background for the unaccompanied motets of Brahms and Mendelssohn that appear on the album, and for other unaccompanied choral music of the time that took its thorny contrapuntal density and chromaticism from Bach -- directly in Mendelssohn's case, but perhaps with composers like these as intermediaries in others. The pieces, mostly termed motets, are short and closely tied to the texts without being programmatic; they are attractively economical and serene, with none of the bombast that sometimes afflicted Mendelssohn when he turned to Baroque models. Many of the texts are biblical; those of Arnold Mendelssohn, a distant relative of Felix whose music was banned by the Nazis (the annotators do not see fit to tell us why, unfortunately), use fascinating poems by the seventeenth century mystic writer Angelus Silesius. They're real finds for any choral group. Those six pieces, from 1925, are the latest works on the album, which fills in some holes in our understanding of how the Romantics heard Bach -- and offers any lover of boys' choirs a unique German take on the tradition to complement a collection of English music.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Motets (3) for chorus, Op. 110|
|Siehe, ich verkündige euch, Christmas cantata|
|Soweit der Sonne Herrlichkeit, Christmas cantata|
|Mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen, for soprano solo & chorus, Op. 42|
|Six choral settings of poems by Angelus Silesius, for four-part chorus, Op. 14|