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Garrett Saake
Choral Journal, February 2013

The Bach Sinfonia’s fourth recording captures the motets of J.S. Bach in a historically accurate yet fresh way.

The disc was recorded at the Spencerville Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. The church’s acoustic in the recording is transparent; all of the desired textures and themes are heard with absolute clarity.

The tempo of each motet is quick when compared to other Bach motet recordings. The relatively fast tempos, however, do not obscure the intelligibility of the music…Abraham’s control of the ensemble is astonishing.

The CD notes provide interesting information such as details regarding the period instruments used along with historical information on each of the motets and their translations.

There are many aspects of the CD to enjoy, whether it be the refreshing tempos, the impressive articulation, or text treatment. The Bach Sinfonia presents a recording that is both informative and enjoyable. © 2013 Choral Journal

Karen Cook
Early Music America, June 2011

This latest release from Bach Sinfonia, the Washington, DC, ensemble directed by Daniel Abraham, has taken on a mighty challenge: the entirely of the Bach motets. They have emerged victorious indeed.

Admittedly, the label “motet” is a bit looser of these works than for others. The detailed, technical liner notes give clues not only to the individual pieces’ context, but also to their musical construction, providing insight into how these works fit into the German motet tradition. Of the seven motets presented here, three are of a more traditional bent (“Der Geist hilft under Schwachheit auf,” “Fürchte dich nicth, ich bin bei dir,” and “Ich lasse dich nicht”), while four (“Komm, Jesu, komm,” “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied,” “Jesu, meine Freude,” and “Lobet cen Herrn, alle Heiden”) exhibit traits unusual to the typical German motet of the time. Abraham has wisely chosen to alternate them on the disc, thereby creating a sense of variety. The recording concludes with two choral settings associated with, but not necessarily belonging to, two of the motets.

The ensemble is recognized for its exceptional attention to detail, especially where articulation is concerned. One almost does not need the text, so clear is each voice part. The German sounds native, with delightful inflection and phrasing, even (especially?) in the heavily contrapuntal fugal sections. They have a delightfully rich sound, which manages at once to be warm, inviting, and crystal clear. The entire ensemble is especially well-balanced; kudos to both the ensemble and the disc’s recording engineers.

The beautiful counterpoint in the chorus of “Komm, Jesu, Komm,” with its soprano line soaring over the moving lower voices, the chorale in “Fürchte dich nicht,” the lightness in the fugal ending of “Ich lasse dich nicht,” the concluding Alleluja of “ Lobet den Herrn”—all are absolutely glorious moments on this recording. My first encounter with Bach’s motets as a performer was through his “Jesu, meine Freude,” and it will always have special resonance for me. It’s a stunning motet that contains perhaps my favorite moving-bass-line-cum-melody in its “Gute Nacht, o Wesen,” which is an absolute standout on the recording thanks to the stellar blend, diction, and emotive singing of the soprano, alto, and tenor concertists.

There is a beautiful uniformity of purpose in this recording; every person in the ensemble is of one musical mind, executing turns of phrase, dynamic contrasts, cadential tension, and relaxation with an almost surreal single-minded approach, allowing the music to unfold like some grand Bach-ian teleology. There simply is no down side to anything on the recording, no moments to nitpick about, no choices to regret.

Mary Kunz Goldman
The Buffalo News, March 2011

The Bach Sinfonia not only navigates these intricate pieces with its exuberant ups and downs, it does it with such grace and ease that you think you can do it, too. Listening to the disc in the car, I learned otherwise. Try singing along with one of these pieces—I am thinking of a jaunty, high-speed number like the opening of “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied”—and you’ll be full of new respect not just for the singers but for Bach’s genius. I like this group for giving new energy to these oft-performed pieces, and for making me want to hear them again.

George Chien
Fanfare, March 2011

Under its dynamic music director, Daniel Abraham, the Washington-based Bach Sinfonia has brought to light many works that may not have been heard for two centuries or more, but the motets are among Bach’s most frequently recorded music. It’s a proper challenge, met with distinction. The detailed notes and certain choices he has made indicate that Abraham is a serious scholar as well as a talented musician. He has included both Ich lasse dich nicht and Lobet den Herrn, one because its authenticity has been confirmed to his satisfaction and the other because doubts of its authenticity have not. In an appendix he has recorded the chorale usually sung at the end of Der Geist hilft because he does not believe that it was Bach’s intention, and a second verse of the central chorale of Singet dem Herrn that is indicated in the manuscript but rarely, if ever, sung. And, of course, he made the crucial decision to sing the entire program with a small chorus, composed of five concertists and 11 ripienists, discreetly backed by an instrumental component limited to four strings, four winds, and continuo (violone and positive organ).

Abraham’s performances are finely detailed, blissfully free of eccentricities, and sung beautifully and confidently by the Sinfonia’s vocal arm, Sinfonia Voci. I’ll add this disc to a growing list of worthy motet recordings that includes Erickson and Holten, Hemetsberger (with a monster choir), Junghanel and Kooij (with minimal forces), as well as old favorites Marlow, Kuijken, and Herreweghe.

Lindsay Koob
American Record Guide, March 2011

…enviable technical, musical, and recording quality, stacking up well against the finest accounts available.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online., February 2011

The Bach Sinfonia’s motet performances are top-notch as well. Under the sure-handed direction of Daniel Abraham, the ensemble brings a smooth, pure tone to seven motets and two less-known supplementary pieces associated with two of the seven. The most extended work here is Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227, handled with considerable emotional sensitivity. Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 225, the other extended work on the CD, is also carefully structured and convincingly delivered. The shorter works also receive exemplary treatment: Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, BWV 226; Komm, Jesu, komm, BWV 229; Fürchte dich nicht, ich bein bei dir, BWV 228; Ich lasse dich nicht, BWV anhang 159; and Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden, BWV 230. Especially interesting are two supplementary tracks included after the motets themselves. One is a chorale setting associated with BWV 226 and called Du heilige Brunst, süsser Trost. The other is a second chorale verse and aria for BWV 225, entitled Die Gottesgnad’ alleine. None of these works is outstandingly familiar, although most listeners who have heard Bach motets before will have encountered at least a couple of them. There is no particular reason to hear the motets in this order, or even to listen to the CD from start to finish—except that the overall effect of Bach’s religiosity comes through particularly strongly when a disc as well sung as this one is heard from beginning to end, giving modern listeners a chance to immerse themselves in a level of religious involvement and sensibility that most people have lost today but with which the music of Bach is so thoroughly imbued that it is no exaggeration to describe it as the core value of his entire output.

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, December 2010

Daniel Abraham and the members of the Silver Spring, MD-based Bach Sinfonia & Sinfonia Voci (to give its full name) do an outstanding job, scholarly and artistically, with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Motets. In this case, scholarship is essential since, as booklet annotator Daniel R. Melamed of Indiana University observes, “No music by J. S. Bach performed as often as his motets leaves so many unanswered questions.” Motets were generally performed on the occasion of funerals or memorial services, but there seems to be no hard and fast rule about this and some may just as well have commemorated other events in a Christian life such as confirmations, weddings, and the name days of saints. When performed, the motet was heard after the introductory organ prelude, while the cantata (the principal music) fell between the gospel reading and the sermon.

Nowhere in his works does Bach pay tribute to the vocal traditions of the 16th and 17th Centuries as he does in the motets. Yet he evidently did not take them strictly à capella, but included at least a keyboard and a bass viol, or violone (My guess was to fill out the harmony a bit and give the singers something to adhere to in terms of rhythm and pitch). Or the instruments might have been doubled with the vocal parts. Certainly there were no independent instrumental parts, which was a vital distinction between a motet and a cantata.

All of which means that Abraham and the Bach Sinfonia had decisions to make in terms of performance style and emphasis, questions which they resolve very happily here. The true flavor and richness of Bach’s à capella writing comes through magnificently. There is never any vagueness or indecision about the clarity of the vocal lines, even when the harmony changes from four to five to three parts as it does in the first four verses of BWV 227, Jesu, meine Freude, or when it takes the form of a full-blown fugue for voices, as it does midway through this same remarkable 11movement masterwork which is clearly the centerpiece of the program. We also have the chance to hear Bach at his old game of picture-painting with music, as he does in the opening verse of BWV 226, Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf (The Spirit will help our weakness) where the music expresses both faltering and encouragement in keeping with the sense of the text, or in the choral verse Trotz den altern Drachen (Spite, the ancient dragon), where the sharply inflected repetitions of the word “trotz” seem to imitate the action of a cunning, swift-striking serpent, which in the context is an appropriate and time-honored emblem for sin and death.

Even with the well-filled program, Abraham & co. have seen fit to give us a pair of attractive extras at the very end: Du heilige Brunst, süßer Trost (O thou holy flame, comfort sweet), a choral setting associated with BWV 226Íž and Die Gottesgnad’ alleine (God’s graciousness alone), a second verse for BWV 225. I don’t know exactly why they did it, but I’m glad they did!

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