Amici Voices present a meditation on mortality and the uplifting prospect of a joyful afterlife via Christ’s redemption. Two relatively early Bach Cantatas outline the stylistic distance travelled from the German-influenced Actus tragicus (belonging to 1707 in Mühlhausen) to the French- and Italian-inclined Himmelskönig (from seven years later at Weimar), and there is a double-choir Motet from the Leipzig years drawn from the Venetian polychoralists filtered through Schütz.
A ten-member ensemble accompanies the conductor-less Voices, all beautifully captured by the recording. Playing and singing is uniformly impressive. Overall, these accounts are restrained, devotional fervour expressed through intelligent musicianship and honeyed tone. At times though it’s so manicured and smoothly blended that one might almost miss the rough edges and more-individual qualities of pioneering performances by Gustav Leonhardt and Nikolaus Harnoncourt with their concomitant sense of excitement.
But there’s no gainsaying the achievement of Amici Voices and the instrumentalists. Gottes Zeit is exquisitely rendered and the pacing of the opening Sonatina is perfectly-judged, as is the spicy interplay of consonance and dissonance which Bach exploits from recorders. Poise and consolation merge into a slightly too measured first chorus (nothing like the steeplechase presented by Konrad Junghänel) the rapture of meeting the Almighty somewhat controlled, although Bethany Partridge is especially pleasing in her fresh-voiced appeals to meet our Saviour.
Himmelskönig narrates Christ’s journey into Jerusalem on a donkey, an image superbly conveyed in the introductory Sonata’s harmonisation of circling violins (dotted rhythms suggesting Bach’s acquaintance with the French Overture). Two further movements which reveal superb performances are Helen Charlston’s flawless ‘Leget euch’ (with Ashley Solomon’s decorous transverse flute) and the closing chorus which is imbued with such madrigalian lightness that it could belong to another genre entirely. Emotional expression and vigorous articulation are stunning.
Between the Cantatas Terence Charlston provides a short chorale for organ from BWV767, neatly preparing the funereal mood and key for Komm, Jesu, komm. It’s a lovely account to showcase Bach’s rich choral tapestry and this group’s prowess but does not add anything new to a well-furnished discography. A little more character and interpretative insight is needed; it’s all very shapely and handsomely sung, yet something of the work’s intimacy remains unexplored. If solace from the Monteverdi Choir (SDG) is too accentuated or suspensions overegged from The Hilliard Ensemble (ECM), then it's these accounts do at least arrest the listener.
That said, this Amici release (which comes with a comprehensive booklet note, as well as texts and translations) brings a freshness of delivery that is its own reward.