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American Record Guide: (01/2020) 
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Reviewer: William J. Gatens

This recording presents six works by three members of the extended Bach family earlier than JS Bach plus his Cantata 4 (Christ Lag in Todesbanden), very likely the earliest of his surviving church cantatas. The pieces by Heinrich Bach (1615-92), Johann Michael Bach (1648-94), and Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703) can be better described as sacred concertos than cantatas. They are works for voices with obbligato instruments organized as a succession of short sections rather than freestanding movements. Lionel Meunier and Vox Luminis have already recorded a program of motets by ancestors of JS Bach. The difference is that instruments may double the voices but have no independent material. The present recording forms a natural sequel to the first. The earliest work here is Ich Danke dir Gott by Heinrich Bach, his only surviving vocal composition. Apart from it, all that survives of his output are an organ chorale and two instrumental sonatas. We have more music by two of his sons: Johann Michael Bach and Johann Christoph Bach. This program has two sacred concertos by Johann Michael: Ach Bleib bei Uns, Herr Jesu Christ and Herr, der König Freuet Sich. JS Bach had an especially high regard for his distant elder cousin Johann Christoph Bach, calling him a “profound composer”. He presented several of his works in Leipzig. He is represented here by three pieces: Die Furcht des Herren, Herr, Wende Dich und Sei Mir Gnädig, and Es Erhub Sich Ein Streit. The first of these was written for an installation of the Eisenach city Council. One soloist allegorically is wisdom, and others represent elder and younger members of the council. Es Erhub sich ein Streit is an exuberant work for the feast of St
Michael and All Angels (September 29), with parts for trumpets and timpani. It concludes the program.


JS Bach’s Cantata 4 is essentially a set of variations on an Easter chorale. Annotator Jerome Lejeune points out its similarity to a work by Johann Pachelbel based on the same chorale, suggesting that Bach took that piece as his model. Among the surviving elements of older compositional practice is the fivepart string writing (2 violins, 2 violas, and continuo bass), but it is a multi-movement work of more extensive scope than any of the other pieces here. The pieces by the elder composers are rarities that illustrate the style of Lutheran sacred vocal composition in the later 17th Century. They are all estimable works that are worth hearing, but I would stop short of calling them unjustly neglected masterpieces. Attractive as they are, they will not make us forget Buxtehude or Kuhnau.


The performances are very fine. Continuo realizations are played on a 15-rank positive organ built in 2002. Its tone is more robust than the feeble cabinet organs we often hear in period instrument performances, but it does not exceed its accompanimental function. My one complaint is that the instruments often overbalance the solo voices.

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