Johann Ludwig Bach, whose likeness exists in an expert pastel executed by his son, the portraitist Gottlieb Friedrich Bach, has remained something of a mystery figure among the musicians peopling the Bach family apart from his Handelian orchestral Suite in G. Although an orchestra leader by trade, Ludwig Bach's surviving output mostly consists of sacred music, and his 11 motets are among his strongest and most personal creations. Carus Verlag's Johann Ludwig Bach: Das ist meine Freude features 10 of those motets performed by Ex Tempore Gent and the Orpheon Consort under Florian Heyerick. These performances are prepared from an edition of Bach's complete motets published in 2003 by Carus Verlag and edited by Uwe Wolf, who also contributes informative -- if rather dry -- liner notes for the CD. All of Bach's motets, save one, are polychoral and largely homophonic in texture, though when Bach begins to spin threads of polyphony out of the center of his harmonic body, such as in "Das ist meine Freude," you know it; this same piece is constructed around a striking skipping figure that makes effective use of negative space. Although Wolf states that the pieces are "entirely in the Middle German or Thuringian tradition," they seem strangely modern in their relative lack of complexity, although that is not to say that these motets are unsophisticated. The employment of the large chorus and occasional soloists, combined with Bach's penchant for understatement and economy of means is something that stands out from other German sacred music of the time. Bach's harmonic writing is very rich, and in a purely emotional sense, this music can be quite moving, particularly in slower passages as in "Das Blut Jesu Christi" and "Gott, sei uns gnädig." Johann Sebastian Bach greatly admired these works of his second cousin, and that we have them at all is largely thanks to the younger Ludwig Bach for preserving them. It is easy to see what Johann Sebastian Bach saw in them; this idiom is not what Sebastian Bach employed for his cantatas, but seems closer to the musical universe of later works like the Mass in B minor.
The Rheinische Kantorei under Hermann Max for Capriccio has recorded eight of these motets before. They did not have the benefits of Uwe Wolf's pristine editions, but that does not mean that Max's interpretations suffer in comparison; they are quite different from those of Heyerick by a wide margin. "Das Blut Jesu Christi" here runs almost eight minutes, whereas Max brings it in two minutes faster, and Max's "Gedenke meiner, mein Gott" is nearly five minutes longer than the performance here by Heyerick. The Capriccio disc doesn't sound quite as good as this Carus Verlag recording, made at the Èglise de Bossières-Saint Gerard in Belgium; however, in solo passages the sopranos are not very strong. Whatever decision one makes about the choices for Johann Ludwig Bach's motets, it is literature that is well worth investigating and Carus Verlag's Johann Ludwig Bach: Das ist meine Freude makes for a highly satisfying listen.