BACH: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048; Longed-for light of joy, BWV 184; He calleth his own sheep by name, BWV 175; O greatly longed-for feast of joy, BWV 194; There is something stubborn and fainthearted, BWV 176; O sacred spring of water and the spirit, BWV 165; Praised be the Lord, my God, BWV 129 – Lisa Larsson, soprano/ Ruth Holton, soprano/ Nathalie Stutzmann, alto/ Daniel Taylor, alto/ Christoph Genz, tenor/ Paul Agnew, tenor/ Stephen Loges, bass/ Peter Harvey, bass/ Monteverdi Choir/ English Baroque Soloists/ John Eliot Gardiner, conductor – Soli Deo Gloria SDG 138 (2 CDs) 50:01, 61:26 ****[Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:
Four new discs from the Gardiner “Bach Pilgrimage” that started, if you can believe it, all the way back in 2000. These are volumes 3 and 27, and eight years later still going strong. The notes are contemporary by conductor Gardiner, but one must wonder if he can really remember all of the feelings going through his mind almost a decade ago.
For those collecting this series, the same high standards continue to apply. A large number of cathedral settings were chosen for these works, the complete church cantatas, in order to perform them all in a one-year time period. They are live and spontaneous, with a number of different performers taking the solo roles. In volume 3 for the fourth and fifth Sundays after Trinity, we are graced with the exceptional presences of Magdalena Kozena and Nathalie Stutzmann in Tewkesbury Abbey, while the church of Muhlhausen was treated to Joanne Lunn and William Towers taking the alto role. (I have not been able to fathom the reasoning behind using countertenors in some places and altos in the other.) These Trinity pieces are more subdued and penitential than those found in the latest volume 27, for Whit Sunday and Trinity Sunday, where we get things started with a sprightly but hardly top-of-the-line Brandenburg Concerto 3, done at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Blythburgh, a place where Benjamin Britten used to conduct many of his Aldeburgh Festival performances. The day before, Gardiner and company had done BWV 174, whose opening sinfonia comes from this work, and the association of “threes” found all though the piece proved too much to resist, symbolically speaking. Some of the most affecting and joyous of Bach’s cantatas are found on this set, like O sacred spring of water and the spirit, a beautiful work that is actually a musical sermon, performed at St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall.
Out of the currently ongoing cantata series, by Suzuki and Koopman, Gardiner remains my favorite, bringing a sensibility and undiluted piety to the music in an unabashedly emotional manner. I wish they had been released on SACD, but the sound is remarkably consistent even across so many venues, and the singing is stunning. Bach as he ought to be heard by performers who know him inside out—don’t miss these.
— Steven Ritter