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GRAMOPHONE (08/2015)
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Alpha ALPHA199  
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Resonus Classics RES10152  Code-barres / Barcode : 5060262790564


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Reviewer: David Vickers

The discography of Bach’s motets is as extensive and diverse as that devoted to any iconic set of Baroque choral masterpieces. It has been many years since it seemed viable to take sides about whether chamber choirs (with adult female singers on the top line), church or college choirs (with boy trebles) or slimline minimal approaches are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Capella Cracoviensis, under guest director Fabio Bonizzoni, deploy eight single voices. Leanly balanced contrapuntal textures and crisp diction abound, and there is an astute sense of light and shade. The fugue at the core of Der Geist hilft has articulate vigour, and the rhythms of the opening declamations to sing praises in Singet dem Herrn are lightly sprung. The weighted phrasing and flexible ebb and flow of pulse in Jesu, meine Freude make for a compellingly urgent argument but one that does not always conclude with completely satisfying answers (for instance, the running bass voice part and swaying upper voices in ‘So aber Christus’ lack compassionate mysticism – although it is achieved sweetly in ‘Gute Nacht, o Wesen’). The ensemble’s voices often have a firm vibrato that colours the music warmly, but the lushness of texture in places such as the antiphonal exchanges in Komm, Jesu, komm (taken fairly briskly by Bonizzoni) also wobble with some flawed tuning.
The Choir of St Thomas’s, New York fields nearly 50 singers. Half of these are boy trebles, so the top line is always sustained smoothly; the lower-voice parts tend to be subservient, providing support rather than achieving absolute polyphonic equality. Soloists are used expediently for the florid passages in juxtaposition to full chorale phrases during the middle movement of Singet dem Herrn. John Scott’s measured pacing yields harmonic clarity during the alternating double-choir sections in Komm, Jesu, komm, the choir juxtaposes clarity in florid passages with cathartic cadential resolutions in Der Geist hilft, and the dynamic range between whispered fugue and grand homophonic conclusion in Fürchte dich nicht is enthralling, albeit perhaps a mite contrived. The continuo trio of cello, double bass and organ inevitably has a more distant share of the textural pie than the prevalence of the instruments on the bass-line in the chamber-scale Polish recording. Each survey includes Ich lasse dich nicht, for many years misattributed to Bach’s father’s cousin Johann Christoph; the crystal-clear spatial distinction between the two choirs in the New York recording yields a gently profound effect, whereas Capella Cracoviensis’ double quartet of singers sound more homogenised and are placed at the foreground.


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