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March 24, 2004

Washington Post

It's a rare treat to hear all of J.S. Bach's motets in one concert. On Sunday, the Washington Bach Consort feted the composer on his 319th birthday with a dazzling performance of all six of his motets at National Presbyterian Church. Under music director J. Reilly Lewis, the 25 members of the Bach Consort chorus sang with fluid energy and perfect intonation and diction.

The motet -- a sacred choral composition in contrapuntal style -- flourished during the Middle Ages and was sung a cappella through the Renaissance period. During Bach's cantorship in Leipzig, Germany, beginning in 1723, motets often began morning and vespers services, usually accompanied by organ or continuo. Bach seldom composed motets for these services; he wrote five of the six motets on Sunday's program for the funeral services of prominent Leipzig citizens.

To accommodate the double chorus structure of the motets, the Consort chorus split in half. The effect was a playful dialogue between the two resulting choruses as they called and echoed in a florid style, like birds in neighboring trees, or joined together in a simple four-part chorale or complicated fugue. Through it all, Lewis pulled phrases from the group like golden threads through a tapestry.

Posted by acapnews at March 24, 2004 9:21 AM


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