MusicWeb.com, December 2010
I’m not usually one to judge a disc by its cover, but this cover is very interesting. Signum are clearly hoping to appeal to new audiences with this sort of design. Presumably the idea is to draw younger listeners into Bach’s world, but it is more likely that they are aiming at the already established, and considerably more senior, cross-over market. Image is clearly important here; it’s not often you meet an endorsement ad for the choir’s tailor on the back of the liner. And the liner itself is much more in the rock-and-roll tradition than the classical: it is a single sheet that unfolds to reveal a large, stylised image of the choir on the back, presumably to stick on your bedroom wall.
The performances are good but are very much what the packaging would lead you to expect. The singing is crisp and accurate, but the tempos are often fast and unyielding. The polyphonic movements are sung with a ping to the accents of each note. It’s not all unaccompanied, but it is all a cappella in style. Voces8 seem to be a Swingle Singers type of group, and their Bach is designed to highlight their vocal agility and the precision of their close harmony textures.
The group is made up of former choristers from Westminster Abbey, so, as you’d expect, they really know the notes. They are joined by two female sopranos, who are good but are a mixed blessing. Obviously, boy trebles wouldn’t fit into this kind of sexed-up Bach, but the female voices also stand out. They occasionally have some tuning problems as well, suggesting they are not quite up to the standard of their male colleagues.
The choir have instrumental accompaniment, thanks to the Senesino Players; an orchestra named after a castrato, what are they trying to tell us with that? But the instrumentalists take a back seat, partly through Bach’s refusal to write them any independent parts, but more significantly through the balance of the recording, which clearly prioritises the voices.
There are no movement divisions within the motets, and each occupies a single track. The way the motets are performed is similarly continuous, with very little pause between each of the movements. That may or may not improve the coherency of the result, but is less of an issue than the way that even individual phrases within choruses are run into each other. It is as if the producers are trying to avoid even the briefest of silences, which often robs the music of its poise. It lacks gravitas as well, but this is probably the point where individual tastes come into play. In their pursuit of new audiences,Voces8 and Signum seem unconcerned about alienating the existing Bach constituency. That is fair enough – you can easily go elsewhere if you want to hear a more traditional reading of this music – but what this one offers is fun. The period performance movement has demonstrated how to bring life and energy back to Bach’s choral textures, but none of the big names have produced anything that is quite as much fun as this. Obviously, this isn’t the last word when it comes to Bach’s Motets, but it brings an interesting new angle to the music, and possibly a new audience too.
Fanfare Magazine, July 2011
Normally cover photographs don’t enter the discussion, but I’ll make an exception here. The image in question depicts eight attractive young people striding purposefully down a dimly lit, narrow alley directly toward the viewer. Attired in concert dress, they are also wearing, shall we say, their game faces. The impression they impart is that if your favorite nightclub is at the far end of the alley, you might well check the GPS for an alternate route. We all know that the camera doesn’t lie – that’s what PhotoShop is for. But does it always tell the truth? The interior shot shows the eight, the members of Voces8, in a more relaxed mode – lots of hands in pockets and even the barest hint of one possible smile. These people don’t look like they are intent on mayhem at all, but they surely do look serious.
The disc begins with an aggressive launch into Singet dem Herr ein neues Lied, to many ears the finest of the motets. Sung one to a part – with prominent instrumental support by the Senesino Players – it’s an in-your-face, whirlwind display of disciplined virtuosity, and easily the fastest version in my experience – an astonishing seven-and-a-half minutes shorter than Gardiner, no shrinking violet himself, in his decades-old Erato set. One can only marvel at the group’s remarkable collective skill and cohesion, but one can also be worn down by its relentlessness. Much the same can be said of Fiirchte dich nicht, which follows, and the other shorter motets. There’s some respite in Jesu, meine Freude, which, with its sectional structure, benefits from a more flexible reading. Nonetheless, at 18-and-a-half minutes Voces8 is three to four minutes quicker than the norm. (Gardiner falls into the normal range here.)
So perhaps what you see is what you get: very serious music-making- admirable, even mesmerizing, in its own way, but, to these ears, a bit too stem for comfort. I’ll stick with Marlow or Herreweghe, or, for a one-to-a-part version, Kooij.
Choir & Organ, March/ April 2011
Great vocal consorts form the pinnacle of the choral world’s meritocracy, earning their prominence through a mixture of technical excellence and musical inspiration; judging by their featherweight, essentially superficial reading of the Bach Motets (SIGCD213), Voces8 still has some way to go. They sing all the right notes in the right places and are matched by self-effacing instrumental underpinning from the Senesino Ensemble – nimble and luminous at best, they’re clearly having a ball, but the vocal quality is uneven and the interpretations insubstantial.