Bach’s six motets were written when he was Musical Director of St Thomas Church, Leipzig, and the Australian Chamber Choir was scheduled to perform them there over three concerts last year until COVID intervened.
Instead, the Melbourne choir has been presenting them in a single concert – a herculean and uplifting feat requiring great vocal stamina – and one of those performances is now available on demand through the choir’s website.
I urge you to go there – you will not be disappointed. And if you are in the area you can hear them live when they repeat the concert at the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels in Geelong on Friday, 10 December.
Directed as always by Douglas Lawrence, the ACC is in wonderful form for this concert against the bright and airy backdrop of Melbourne’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Middle Park. From the joyful opening of the a cappella Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf in which help is sought through “Heavenly fire, sweet consolation”, to the magnificent Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, which so impressed Mozart when he heard it in Leipzig, the sheer scope of Bach’s achievement in these six works, never intended to be heard one after the other, becomes apparent.
The 16 choristers never flag – their true intonation, beautiful phrasing and diction all remain intact to the end of this two-hour marathon. They are aided by some instrumental interludes which, as well as giving them a break before the next double fugue or the flowing simple lines of the Lutheran hymns Bach incorporates, serve to vary the texture of the whole performance.
Cellist Rosanne Hunt plays some movements from three of Bach’s suites, as well as accompanying organist Rhys Boak for some of the motets, including the longest and best known of them all, Jesu, meine Freude which closes the first half.
Boak offers the Arioso from Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother, which makes a sweet bouche fraiche for the challenging Singet dem Herrn which follows. Thought to have been written for the funeral of the Lutheran Electress of Saxony, Christiane Eberhardine, this is the only one of the six motets to feature solos and soprano Amelia Jones, alto Elizabeth Anderson, tenor Matthew Bennett and bass Steven Hodgson all prove to be well worth the wait.
Bach’s Genius – The Motets will be performed at the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels in Geelong on Friday, 10 December. It is also available to view on demand via the Australian Chamber Choir website.