J.S. Bach: Jesu, Meine Freude

Peter Kooij / Sette Voci

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J.S. Bach: Jesu, Meine Freude Review

by James Manheim

The one-voice-per-part approach to performing Bach's music was pointedly questioned some years ago by Dutch conductor Ton Koopman (or one of his minions), who asked one-voice-per-part advocate Joshua Rifkin whether he was on his way to conduct the B minor madrigal. Whatever one thinks of this way of performing Bach, the motets may offer a stronger case for it than choral music in other genres. They are less closely associated with chorales, for one thing; the meaning carried by music that originated with congregational singing is not so much an issue. And the motets have a deeply interior tone that traces itself partly back to private, contemplative genres of the 17th century. If you're intrigued by the one-voice-per-part method, this precise yet highly expressive and, yes, madrigalistic disc by the Dutch group Sette Voci makes a good place to start. The Sette Voci in this case are otto, with one singer (only the sopranos are women) assigned to each part in the double SATB forces for which five of the motets are written. There are seven motets on the program, including the disputed Ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn, BWV Anh. 159. The solo textures expose the strands in the dense web of counterpoint that builds up from the opening bars of Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 225, and dissonances like the flat seconds in the soprano line of Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227, gain an expressive prominence they lack in other readings. The singers are accompanied by a quiet continuo consisting of small organs and a violine. The effect is sparse, intense, and compelling. Whether Bach would have recognized it is hard to say, but the recording demands to be heard, and fine church sound and graphic design well above the German norm contribute to the success of the project. Booklet notes are in German, French, and English.

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