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Review: Vox Luminis Explores Bach’s Family Tree


That Bach came from hardy compositional stock is well known. But the actual music of his forebears remains obscure.

Every few years a venturesome vocal ensemble presents a concert or recording of works by various of Bach’s uncles or cousins, typically repeating the same pieces, which are indeed wonderful. But Vox Luminis — which offered a revelatory program, “The Bach Dynasty,” at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin near Times Square on Saturday evening as part of the Miller Theater’s Early Music series — seems to be taking a more systematic approach.

The group, founded in 2004 in Namur, Belgium, recorded the complete surviving motets of Johann, Johann Christoph and Johann Michael Bach in a two-CD set released last year on the Ricercar label. Its program on Saturday drew heavily on that set, including several numbers unfamiliar even to an ardent Bachian. It filled out the program with motets by Johann Ludwig Bach and Johann Sebastian’s transcendent “Jesu, Meine Freude.”

Not surprisingly, the performances were excellent. Many of these works ingeniously weave chorales through the fabric in one way or another, and the group constantly shifted shape and location to project the contrasting layers most effectively. Yet the singers — four women, seven men — blended beautifully when sheer harmoniousness was the goal.

Lionel Meunier, the ensemble’s artistic director, sang bass and conducted lightly. Jorge López-Escribano played positive organ throughout, and Ricardo Rodríguez Miranda often added viola da gamba.

Only the program notes fell short, merely describing in detail what happens in the music, which attentive listeners can hear in any case. What was needed was some sorting-out of the various Bachs and their mutual relationships. It is high time we figure out who these hopelessly overshadowed masters were and assign them their individual personalities and stature.

Vox Luminis added a lovely encore by Johann Michael Bach, of whom Johann Sebastian spoke highly, as he did of Johann Christoph. Both shone especially brightly here.

On Tuesday evening the Miller Theater presents a free pop-up concert by loadbang; Columbia University, Broadway at 116th Street; 212-854-7799, millertheatre­.com.

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