I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Bach Motets

The Hilliard Ensemble record the Bach Motets BWV 225-230 on ECM New Series. I compared this recording with my earlier one by Philippe Herreweghe on Harmonia Mundi. They perform the motets with instruments. In only one performance by the Hilliard Ensemble, do they use instruments; when they do, it's a solo organ for the continuo part. Bach Motets The older Herreweghe recording sounds great today. It's rich, and the instruments which play the vocal parts in unison, make some of the more complex textures, such as that in BWV 225 more easily heard. That's dense music. The Hilliard approach is of course different. It's intimate, the tempos are generally faster, and the sound more transparent. They follow the movement established by Josh Rifkin of performing Bach's vocal works one/part. And this is of course the Hilliard's forte, performing complex music, one-per-part, with an amazing sound of the voices combining to make harmony. I admired the Hilliard's in their recording with other works on ECM of BWV 4, Christ lag in Todesbanden, and this CD, while recorded 3 years prior, has deserved a place on my shelf. I've been living with this CD all weekend, taking it in, listening to favorite parts over and over, and coming up with a reaction. First, I'll say I love the fact they split the sections up into tracks, so I can re-play shorter sections with no trouble. Gone are the days for CDs with index tracks. Some of the motets use a double choir. The voices match well, especially so that we have two sopranos and "extra" male singers to make 8 part harmony. Complaints? Yes.. in the choral (track 6), from BWV 226, I hear a ripe clash from the soprano(s). And in my favorite work, BWV 227, some phrasing from track 15 in the second soprano, bothers me. This work is sublime, and Herreweghe does well with it, but the Hilliards add a faster tempo and some really clear voicing. The "baritone" voice at times could stand out... more... this is what happens when you don't back up the voices with instruments... some of the depth, and the root of harmonies, is lightfooted. This aside, however, we have a great record. Track 22, BWV 229 is especially dramatic, and the acoustic used for the recording is simply appropriate. It's delicious music. Look at the last track for BWV 230, how light they are, and yet, what is this music? It sounds modern. Bach's motets look backward, for sure, in their style, but the overall sound is atypical for Johann Sebastian. Rarely is it sung like this, so open and bare; the purity of voices makes for good music making. They Hilliards include a "bonus" motet, BWV anh. 159, and what a real gem it is. Here the mixture of the lower sonorities ring strong (with bass). It may be one of the most beautiful things on the recording; I'm guessing they will include it often as an encore. Bach not only wrote these motets, but wrote Latin-style masses, in addition to his larger-scale cantatas with instruments and continuo. If you like polyphonic music, with cantus firmus, this is written in that style. It's baroqueness makes it sound fresh, while fans of older vocal music will see and hear its roots. 6 gems by Bach. Yes, we can nit-pick and find a few flaws here or there, but this is a recording that reminds me of the Hilliard recording of Gesualdo... pure sound... only this time around, the music is even more rich and palatable.

Bach: Sonate per 'Le Concert Français'

After Mr. Vivaldi Eats Dinner