Johann Sebastian Bach belonged to a large family of musicians spanning two centuries. With a concert of motets by five composers named Bach, the Washington Bach Consort honored its namesake’s birthday Sunday afternoon at the National Presbyterian Church. This program strayed from the tried-and-true audience favorites the ensemble tends to repeat too often, so it was disappointing not to see the church more full.

The survey started with Johann Bach (1604-1673), whose “Unser Leben ist ein Schatten” was one of the more striking pieces on the program. A small group of soloists stated a chorale melody, answered by the chorus, a style in alternation with freer sections of large chorus. The Bach Consort’s small chorus, here in four mixed quartets, had a mostly light and beautifully balanced sound. The soprano section seemed more airy than heard on previous occasions, almost vanishing at times and weary by the final selection, Johann Sebastian Bach’s magisterial “Der Geist hilft.” The Christmas motet “Uns ist ein Kind geboren” by Johann Ludwig Bach (1677-1731) also merited attention for its double-choir texture, use of a melodic line akin to a Gregorian psalm tone and elaborate concluding fugue.

The other selections by Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703) and Johann Michael Bach (1648-1694) may not have held up to comparison with the superior motets of Johann Sebastian, but all were worth hearing. A four-instrument continuo group provided a pleasingly delicate, almost transparent accompaniment to the voices. In organ selections by J.S. Bach and his contemporaries, played by music director J. Reilly Lewis and assistant Todd Fickley, the latter was more assured in execution and more varied in registration.

Downey is a freelance writer.

Organist and Washington Bach Consort music director J. Reilly Lewis. (Beth Lewis)