BACH Motets. Cantus Colln/Jungahnel (DHM) – INKPOT

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Motets, BWVs 225-230

Cantus Clln
conducted by Konrad Junghnel

performing on period instruments

(BMG Classics) 05472-77368-2
[60:57] full-price

Includes vocal texts in German with English and French translations.

by Ng Yeuk Fan

The first thing that would strike you when you put this CD on is the stunning tempos that Cantus Clln have chosen to record these devilishly difficult works. Even the slower parts are taken at a faster-than-usual pace. I would however prefer a more in-depth and meditative reading of these inspiring works.

Nevertheless, their technical virtuosity as an ensemble is unarguable. Choral dynamics are not lacking while intonation and ensemble imperfections are few. The very full choral sound hints of some over-zealous engineering that leaves me wondering if the playback is true to the original Cantus Clln sound. After all, Junghnel’s choice of an all-soloist treatment of all six Motets becomes somewhat ineffectual at the weightier parts and as a result can be rather unsatisfying.

There are instances that this reading have benefited from brisker tempos. For example, in Komm, Jesu, komm, BWV 229 at track 2, 2:33 – “Komm, Komm”, the short staccatos on the word “Komm” caught my attention immediately from the first hearing. The same treatment is heard at Jesu meine Freude, BWV 227 on track 3, 9:46 – “Weg mit alle”.

Lobet den Herren, alle Heiden, BWV 230 also benefits from the virtuosic treatment. Here tempos need to be rushed a bit to bring out the full flavour of “Lobet der herrn”. Though the general preference for faster tempos speak little of any real interpretative insight into these works, it is nonetheless pleasing to hear an actual difference here.

Where slower tempos are preferred, the full emotional impact of “So aber..” at Track 3, 10:40 fails to come across. Any possible saving grace is quickly destroyed at “der geist” which follows.

Ensemble aside, the two sopranos Johanna Koslowsky and Maria Cristina Kiehr have a tone quality that seasoned baroque listeners may object to. I was left wondering why they were coloured more like counter-tenors. It took me some time to get used to this sound and was one of the reasons that kept me deliberating whether to purchase this disc at the shops.

I much prefer the part of the soprano to be sung by a bright chesty soprano (in terms of sound!) or better than that, a real treble. Koslowsky’s voice, though not as thick as the countertenor Bernhard Landauer, is still too thick and very buccal. I cannot help but think that more head and more chest is needed. In addition, the countertenor runs in “Ihr aber seid nicht fleischlich” is certainly ugly. There were also instances when he stuck out badly from the ensemble.

The tenor and bass in this set would have been a pleasure to listen to, if the sound engineer had not added extra bass to the recording. The bass continuo is quite sufficient, in my opinion, to balance the ladies at the higher end of the range. Cadences as a result are full, but contrived. One gets tired easily of the “full-but contrived” sound in a short while.

Whether it is possible to find trebles with the quality of Helmut Wittek (from Tlzer in the 1980s) is not the issue here. As an aside, the recent commercially recorded trebles are really disappointing. Real “German” trebles with bright, chesty and yet clear-as-a-bell voices are needed for these Bach masterpieces – much as Bach would have had in his church. They sing with the fiery boldness and consummate artistry that defies belief.

NG YEUK FAN is not easily upset except when Bach is performed carelessly… .

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