5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A more than valid alternative,
This review is from: Bach: Motets (Audio CD)
In this country we are, I feel, very bad at looking beyond our own shores when it comes to choral music. This, of course, can be attributed to the remarkable strength of professional singing, from college chapel choirs up to the many outstanding ensembles that make all sorts of wonderful music. However, this strength is also in some ways a weakness. The system which produces all these excellent singers is, by and large, that of the university choral scholarship, followed by cutting one's teeth in the shark-pond of London professional singing (this, of course, does a disservice to the many excellent singers from outside the capitol, but it is true for the majority). Because of this, a certain approach, and a certain style are fostered: one of perfect sight-singing, purity of tone and unobtrusive "blend". I would not for a second criticise the results this achieves, but I would argue that it is definitely worth, once in a while, listening to something completely different!
Cantus Cölln are a very small ensemble from (as you might expect) Germany. They have been making records for about 20 years now, cracking out an impressive 30 discs in that time, largely specialising in German Baroque repertoire, and garnering a large clutch of awards for their pains. This disc (which was first recorded in 1997), is fairly typical of their output, combining a choir of soloists (if that's not an oxymoron) with small instrumental forces, and the results are very convincing indeed. The singing is excellent, and the vocal colour is entirely unlike the "English" approach: these singers prefer expression over machine-gun accuracy, which leads at times to slight infelicities in tuning and blend, but lends the performance a satisfyingly distinctive character.
It should be noted that this approach to singing Bach (which is also favoured by Paul McCreesh's Gabrieli Consort) has its merits and drawbacks. On the positive side, the individual vocal lines are beautifully expressed, and the listener is impressed by the clarity with which they can hear every single note on the page. On the downside, individual voices cannot hope to match the weight and dramatic range of a larger force, meaning dynamic contrast can be sacrificed. Moreover, the human ear is so well attuned to picking out different voices that listening can become ever so slightly wearing for long periods. (This point is, however, only a very, very minor one).
So, this disc is a matter of taste: if you want a very musical, very satisfyingly different way of "doing" Bach, you will find a great deal here to enjoy.