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Fanfare Magazine: 36:2 (11-12/2012)
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Soli Deo Gratia

Code-barres / Barcode: 0843183071623 (ID226)
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Appréciation d'ensemble/ Evaluation : Outstanding!
Reviewer: George Chien

John Eliot Gardiner writes (and he always writes eloquently), “Bach’s motets constitute the most perfect, and in some ways the most hypnotic, set amongst his works.” The motets are not, strictly speaking, a set. They are independent pieces, each unique in its own way, grouped by the accident of their survival. But they are also united by their seriousness, and by the accidental fact that the six canonical motets fit on a single CD. Gardiner first recorded the six motets for Erato in 1982, along with Der Gerechte kommt um, which Norton-Grove lists as “doubtful,” and two motet-like cantatas (BWV 50 and 118).

Now, after 30 years of living with and reassessing these mystical works, he has rerecorded them as an entity. You will first notice that Der Gerechte kommt is gone, as are the cantatas. For this recording Gardiner has included Ich lasse dich nicht, variously attributed to Bach and his older cousin Johann Christoph, to fill the disc. The motets are sung without colla parte instruments, but with a continuo of cello, bass, bassoon, and organ. They are also sung as choral, not chamber works. Twenty-nine members of the Monteverdi Choir (11 sopranos, six each of altos, tenors, and basses) are listed with a note that “individual motets are sung by permutations of the above.” Three soloists are identified for “So aber Christus” in Jesu, meine Freude. As always, the choir sings with remarkable precision. And much is demanded of them. Gardiner, it seems, has molded every phrase to bring out the meaning of the words, much like a Lieder singer shaping a song to enhance its story. He does so without diminishing the coherence of the overall work. This would be a challenge for a soloist. For a chorus it is really quite an astonishing accomplishment. Gardiner does not sacrifice his characteristic vitality; Singet dem Herrn is a sustained burst of energy.

Gardiner’s 1982 recording is still highly desirable. (I’ve installed it on my MP3 player.) The new release is something else again. Outstanding!

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