BACH: Cantatas: Nos. 148, 114, 47, 96, 169, 116; Motet BWV 226; Chorale BWV 668 – Katharine Fuge, soprano/ Nathalie Stutzmann, Frances Bourne, Charles Humphries, Robin Tyson, altos/ Mark Padmore, Christoph Genz, tenors/ Stephan Loges, Gotthold Schwarz, basses/ Monteverdi Choir/ English Baroque Soloists/ John Eliot Gardiner – Soli Deo Gloria SDG 159 (2 CDs), 138:41 **** [Distrib. by Harmonia Mundi]:
This is the ninth volume of the Gardiner Bach Pilgrimage, taking place in Lund on the fourteenth of October 2000, while following at Leipzig on the twenty-second of the same month. The cantatas are for the seventeenth and eighteenth Sundays after Trinity. If I was offering an entry point into this series, I doubt very much that this one would be it.
Don’t get me wrong—Bach is always Bach, but these are not the greatest of his cantatas, and even while offering some interesting and even brilliant moments they do not have that magical spark that draws one in with rapt attention. Interestingly enough, all of the six cantatas here save one are sans soprano, giving the pieces a more subdued and moderately reserved sentiment. The soprano work, “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased” (BWV 47) has a very difficult part for that voice, one that I felt Katharine Fuge had some difficulty with—at least a sense of struggle was detected, though perhaps I am mistaking that for the humble nature of the words. But I quip too much—it is still a fine performance with little to complain about.
We also get what may be the finest alto work Bach composed, “God alone shall have my heart” BWV 169. This is a beautiful work that incorporates some instrumental passages from earlier concertos, and features an extended Sinfonia at the beginning. Also on the docket are two independent pieces, the chorale “I herewith step before Thy throne” and his only motet where the instrumental parts are extant, “The Spirit helpeth our infirmities”. The Monteverdi Choir is astute and as musical as ever, this series not always providing the most stunningly executed choral work, but offering a sense of enjoyment and seat-of-your-pants thrill as we move with the chorus and orchestra from place to place while managing an incredible lot of repertory. For Gardiner this was a labor of love and a real religious devotional act, as comes through clearly in the detailed and informative notes. This series is mandatory for anyone who collects the cantatas, and it will retain a unique and privileged status for a long time to come.
— Steven Ritter