Bach in June of 2007 (ha, ha), I reviewed a recording of Bach's motets by the Hilliard Ensemble. Since living with this recording for awhile, it's a real favorite in my collection. My favorite motet, BWV 227, gets heavy rotation. More recently, the Bach Collegium Japan under Masaaki Suzuki has taken up these works on the BIS Label. To do a proper comparison, I queued up BWV 227, Jesu, meine Freude and was taken aback. When you audition the Hilliards first, then the BCJ, it's like you've gotten off your bicycle and sat in a V12 Jaguar at the auto show. Octane! Power! Weight! This isn't saying one is better than the other. We might argue that about a comparison of vehicles, but in Bach's music, it's really a matter of style, taste, and performance philosophy. Suzuki employs continuo instruments and chooses to modify the choral texture by utilizing both soloists and a fuller ensemble with multiple voices per part... more people singing is going to equate to a bigger sound, by default. So from the start, do you want an intimate reading of the works, with bare minimum forces? Or do you want the muscle car? One nimble and quick, the other weighty and a little more difficult to steer. I like both. Queue up chorale 5 in BWV 227, Gute Nacht... and the BCJ has chosen the intimate one voice per part setting, plus organ continuo. Their tempo is faster, and the sound is more immediate. This is a change in the recording - they are closer to the mikes and their diction is that much more crisp. In fact, at times I felt their pronunciation of German might be almost too much, too exaggerated. I'm no expert in this, so I can't say... it's just more noticeable. Like the Hilliards, they've chosen a really nice acoustical space to record, and I'd venture that it's even more live than the what was used by the Hilliard Ensemble. The Hilliard recording takes more advantage of capturing the acoustical space by placing microphones further from the ensemble, supporting a slower tempo in some movements. Both approaches are appropriate and make for great enjoyment of the music. Included on the BCJapan recording is BWV Anh. 159, Ich lasse dich nicht, which is well done. The tempo is pushed throughout, which I think is the way to go. Another non-traditional inclusion is BWV 118 which ends the recording, and is accompanied with instruments. It's a fitting ending. If you don't speak German, or you don't know the history behind these pieces, Bach wrote these "motets" which are fit for funerals. That sounds depressing, and I wouldn't tell my friends I started my day listening to funeral music. And it doesn't sound particularly sad - it's the subject of the texts. In fact, the music in many cases is very uplifting, which may have been Bach's intent. The opening of BWV 226 on the Bach Collegium's recording is fleeting fast, and bright in sound. The Hilliards are slower in their tempo, delicate for sure, in their 1:part orientation. While the BCJ's reading is far more confident and "solid," there's something more fitting with the intimate reading by the Hilliards. What we're left with is two fairly recent recordings of Bach's motets for various voices... and two very different approaches towards performing the works. The approaches in recording them are more alike than different, but here the larger group comes across more clearly, the second, more awash in the sound of an English church. Both recordings really are first class. I'd want both. And despite the intended function of the music - it's a great way to start your day.