Bach: 7 Motets - Holten

Bach: 7 Motets - Holten

Glossa  922205

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal

Bach: Motets BWV 225-230, 159

Flemish Radio Choir
Bo Holten

Support this site by purchasing from these vendors using the paid links below.
As an Amazon Associate earns from qualifying purchases.

Add to your wish list | library


2 of 2 recommend this, would you recommend it?  yes | no

Reviews (1)

Review by John Miller - March 19, 2008

JS Bach's motets are the pinnacle of his vocal compositions. He deeply respected the long history of the motet as one of the earliest forms of European sacred music, and poured all his mastery of vocal styles into them. Presumably he wrote many of them in his time, but only a handful have survived. For most, we still do not have certain evidence of their dates or the original occasions for which they were written, except that they were intended for special gatherings such as funerals and feast days within the Lutheran liturgy. It used to be thought that they were always sung a cappella, but our current understanding of the diversity in Baroque practices suggests that at the least an organ/gamba continuo may have been used (parts exist for this in some of the motets). A single remark from a witness at a performance of a motet also mentioned that it had many wonderful instruments, and Bach certainly would have doubled the vocal parts with a small orchestra if needed. So there are a number of choices here: motets with single voices to a part, motets with several voices to a part and a continuo, or motets with an orchestral accompaniment. Each will give a different musical experience.

Danish composer and conductor Bo Halten, the new director of the Flemish Radio Choir, writes in the disc's booklet that although he supports the general one-to-a-part theory for Bach's accompanied vocal music, the motets are a special case. Traditionally they were always choral works, and using several voices to a part lessens the fatigue of the singers in the very strenuous sections, and also increases clarity in the many faster-moving polyphonic lines. Here, he uses three voices to a part, making the double chorus choir total 24 voices. An organ and violone are used as continuo.

These works are extraordinarily difficult for choirs to sing, perhaps the hardest they will ever have to cope with, and to attain the necessary fluidity and precision of the intricate scores, they must be well-rehearsed. Apparently Halten and the Flemish Choir spent a month preparing these performances. Phillippe Herreweghe himslef has commented that the motets are "consummate" in conception and "fearsomely difficult to perform".

As well as the usual 6 motets which have been authenticated for some time (BWV 225 Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (1726-7), BWV 226 Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf (1729), BWV 227 Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 228 Fürchte dich nicht, BWV 229 Komm, Jesu, komm! (1730?) and BWV 230 Lobet den Herrn alle Heiden), Halten includes BWV anh. 159 Ich lasse dich Nacht, which has been accepted into the Bach canon fairly recently.

I began listening with a score, but soon gave up just to listen to the sheer beauty of these readings. The choir's precision, good intonation and virtuosic articulation are impressive, and their flexible responses to the texts gives a fine sweep to the motet structures. Halten's internal balancing, bringing out the important thematic lines and allowing the cantus fermi to sing forth, is exemplary. Descant sopranos have an angelic and pellucid tone, while the men are suitably virile in their vocal attacks and florid passages. The choir can sing with a delicious lightness; the opening of Fürchte dich nicht is fleet-footed and light as thistledown. On the other hand, the chorales, interpolated in the motets, have sonorous weight and deep sincerity. The overall impression is one of a devotional occasion, not just a choral outing. Judicious use of soloists from the choir add further to the panoply of vocal textures which Bach deploys, negating the need for other instruments. Halten's tempi are very well chosen; relaxed enough to allow the fioriture to blossom within a basic lilting rhythm, but urgent in virtuosic sections - the fugal alleluia endings of several motets give listeners a thrilling ride.

Glossa's 5.0 recording, in the Jezuitenkirk, Haverlee in Belgium, is resonant but with a natural perspective; the choir are placed as if in the chancel with the listener near the front of the nave, but their internal details are remarkably clear, as the acoustic is very favourable to voices. In the double chorus motets, the left-right interaction of the choirs adds an extra frisson. Both stereo and multichannel can be played at quite a high volume, which only enhances the atmosphere. The continuo group have good supportive presence but never obtrude with spurious ornamentation.

Glossa's triple gate-fold card presentation is attractively minimalist in design, with none of the usual religious symbolism. The booklet is attached, and contains an interview with Halten outlining his approach, in English, French, Dutch, German and Spanish. Texts are present in these languages also. The only quibble I have with the product is that many of the tracks within the motets are poorly timed, giving a moment's hangover of sound from the previous section's end. This is only a problem if you are track-hopping, and may be cured in later pressings.

Having greatly enjoyed the Flemish Radio Choir's previous outing with Rachmaninov, I had high expectations of this issue. This is certainly a fine addition to the several sets of Bach motets on SACD, and I find it impossible to make a single choice; much depends on whether you prefer small or larger choirs, instruments or not. Bach lovers will certainly want to hear the Flemish Radio Choir's wedding of artistry and vocal mastery.

Copyright © 2008 John Miller and



stars stars