This fifth volume of Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage (there are 17 others currently available) covering only the church cantatas consistently maintains the high standards found in previous releases (we have reviewed volumes 3, 6, 16, 21, 25, and 27 on this site, all to good notice). This time the cast is a little more compressed, as some of the same soloists double on each CD. These works for the Trinity season fall on themes very popular in Lutheran catechetical devotion: the 10 Commandments, the Nicene Creed, God’s wrath and Christ’s mercy, etc. As such there is little in them to set them apart from some of the more spectacular cantatas related to the specifics of a given season. This was the time for the basics of Lutheran devotion to be hammered into the faithful during this long season.
Bach’s inspiration does not waver in these more “common” works however; we are continually amazed by the little incidences of word painting and other effects that he is able to achieve with the most economical of means. And see how the non-use of a soprano in the Eighth Sunday cantatas adds a certain calmness and passivity to the texts, the composer obviously cognizant of the emotional impact of higher voices in a solo role.
Since my last review of one of these sets I have encountered a new series that might offer some competition to Gardiner, though the two seem a long way apart in terms of style. Sigiswald Kuijken and La Petite Bande are offering a single cantata for every Sunday of the year plus the high holy days, to be released three of four at a time over a two year period. His band really is “petite” using only a handful of strings, so if a larger contingent appeals to you as it does to me, Gardiner might still command preference. And I think I like Gardiner’s many singers better also, though we will have to see. But the Kuijken series is on SACD (five currently available), so that definitely puts a plus in that particular column for them. In the meanwhile, Gardiner continues to kick, and his standards are superb.
— Steven Ritter