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GRAMOPHONE (10/2023)
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Reviewer :
Malcolm Riley

Spread over two discs, this new, beautifully presented recording features the complete surviving motets by JS Bach set in the context of music from the previous generation of his family, in this case four motets by his father's cousin, Johann Christoph (1642-1703), whose music he cherished and greatly admired, and revived in his final decade in Leipzig. It was also a stroke of inspired genius to record in the Bachkirche in Arnstadt, since Johann Christoph had been born in the town and Johann Sebastian's first organist's appointment was to this very church. The setting and its lofty acoustic clearly inspired Solomon's Knot's performance, which was sung from memory.


The older man's music is of a very high quality. Highly expressive and shapely, his music employs an attractive variety of textures from solid homophony to confidently handled polyphonic voice-


leading. For sheer beauty his Lieber Herr Gott, wecke uns auf takes some beating. Jumping forwards to the 1720s and JSB manages to keep one ancestral eye over his shoulder while lifting choral techniques to new heights by treating his voices orchestrally, with extended melismatic vocalising, for example in the opening movement of Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf. Stripped of the German text, this - and several other movements - would be perfectly satisfying for string ensemble. As it is, the eight members of Solomon's Knot are discreetly accompanied by a continuo duo, Jan Zahourek and Pawel Siwczak, on violone and organ respectively.


Although each motet has its own distinct character, the cumulative effect has been to create a glorious epitome of Baroque choral polyphony whose influence continued to inspire future generations. A performance of Singet dem Herrn, BWV225, astounded Mozart when he visited St Thomas's Church in Leipzig in 1789. On this recording the sprung rhythms bounce with effortless grace and there are some lovely hemiolic touches and other nuances.


The disc concludes with the shortest of JSB's motets, the poignant Ich lasse dich nicht, a work from the Weimar years. Its opening elegant simplicity is enhanced by gentle antiphonal Solomon's Knot are to be congratulated on their refreshing advocacy. A highly rewarding venture.

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