Monday, August 27, 2007

Bach's distant cousin is a real discovery

There is more music by Bach than by any other composer in my CD collection. But until last week one Bach has been absent. Johann Ludwig Bach (1677-1731), seen in the portrait here, was a distant cousin of Johann Sebastian, and was the first Bach to be employed in a leading musical position in a court, serving the ducal court in Meiningen for twenty-eight years. In 1726 J.S. Bach performed eighteen of his cousin's cantatas, and integrated some of the stylistic elements into his own compositions.

Much of J.L. Bach's music has been lost, but eleven motets, twenty-two sacred canatatas, a Funeral Music and Mass, two secular cantatas, an orchestral suite and a double violin concerto survive. The CD that I added to my colection was an important new recording of ten of the motets by the Belgian choral ensemble Ex Tempore Gent (photo below) and the Orpheon Consort directed by Florian Heyerick.

Much headline seeking nonsense has been written recently about the impending death of classical music. Yes, the traditional big players among the symphony orchestras and corporate record companies may be struggling. But that is mainly due to the self-serving antics of over-paid jet set maestros and unimaginative programmes.

For evidence of the rude health of classical music look no further than the many flourishing European vocal groups that have featured on these pages recently, including Exaudi, Estonian Philharmoinc Chamber Choir, Tonus Peregrinus, Flemish Radio Choir, Les Jeunes Solistes and now Ex Tempore Gent. Founded in 1989 by Florian Heyerick, Ex Tempore Gent is a professional ensemble that is building a big reputation in repertoire ranging from 1600 to the present, with particular specialisation in the 17th and 18th centuries.


J.L. Bach's Motets are a revelation, and a real discovery. This is a distinctive musical voice that deserves to be heard irrespective of the Bach connection - listen to MP3 audio samples here. Ex Tempore Gent are persuasive advocates of this fine music, and the sound quality captured by Emmanuel Théry in Eglise de Bessières - Saint Gérard, Belgium is excellent. This new recording comes from the Stuttgart based Carus who have also released a CD of J.L. Bach's Cantatas. Choral groups should note that Carus are also publishers of J.L. Bach's scores.

Carus are a very enterprising publisher and record company who also support modern composers. One example is their fine recording of Rudolph Mauersberger's moving Dresden Requiem which I wrote about last year.

More little known Bach is to be found on a new Sony release. The Gesualdo Consort of Amsterdam directed by Harry van der Kamp have recorded a double CD of the complete works of C.P.E. Bach for vocal ensemble and bass continuo, including litanies, motets and psalm settings. This is a premiere recording for a number of the works, and as a bonus there is Harry van der Kamp's realisation for eight voices of the Contrapuntus XlX from J. S. Bach's Art of Fugue. Mre evidence of the rude health of classical music and recording.

Now read about a Bach chorale's secret French connection.
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