BACH: Cantatas, Vol. 6 (Köthen/Frankfurt) – Monteverdi Choir/Gardiner – Soli Deo Gloria (2 CDs) BACH: Cantatas, vol. 16 (New York) – Monteverdi Choir/Gardiner – Soli Deo Gloria

by | Nov 14, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BACH: Cantatas, Vol. 6 (Köthen/Frankfurt) = Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele, BWV 69a; Geist und Sseele wird verwirret, BWV 35; Lobe den Herren, den machtigen Konig der Ehren, BWV 137; Du sollt Gott, deinen Herren, lieben, BWV 77; Ihr, die ihr euch von Christo nennet, BWV 164; Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 33 – Katharine Fuge, soprano/Gillian Keith, soprano/ Robin Tyson, alto/ Nathalie Stutzmann, alto/ Christoph Genz, tenor, Peter Harvey, bass/ Jonathan Brown, bass/ The Monteverdi Choir/ The English Baroque Soloists/ John Eliot Gardiner, conductor – Soli Deo Gloria SDG 134 (2 discs), 54:53 & 57:03 **** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:

BACH: Cantatas, vol. 16 (New York) = Motet, Singet dem Herr nein neues Lied, BWV 225; Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn, BWV 152; Das neugeborne Kindelein, BWV 122; Gottlob! Nun geht das Jahr zu Ende, BWV 28; Singet dem Herr nein neues Lied, BWV 190 – Katharine Fuge, soprano/ Gillian Keith, soprano/ Joanne Lunn, soprano/ Daniel Taylor, alto, James Gilchrist, tenor/ Peter Harvey, bass/ The Monteverdi Choir/ The English Baroque Soloists/ John Eliot Gardiner, conductor – Soli Deo Gloria SDG 137, 77:29 **** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:

The first set of discs represents the cantatas for the twelfth and thirteenth Sundays after Pentecost, while the second for the first Sunday after Christmas. For those who do not know, John Eliot Gardiner and his forces embarked on a project to record all of Bach’s surviving church cantatas in the year 2000, starting in Weimar, Germany, and culminating one year later at three Christmas celebrations in New York. The works were performed on the days for which they were composed, and involved many different venues, some of them quite spectacular. While I do wish that they had recorded these in superior hi-res sound, the sound itself is generally excellent, though the particulars of it vary according to the venue, as you might expect.

Performances are of course very good, though critical press has not been absent; some people evidently feel that consistency is lacking across volumes, and there is some truth to this. But for me, it is one of the strengths of this series. Masaaki Suzuki is proceeding with his series on BIS, perhaps the most vaunted series currently going, and in SACD. And the Koopman nears completion after being halted for a while because of the demise of Erato. I must confess, after buying the first seven sets of the Koopman, to jettisoning the set. It was too monochromatic and emotionally vapid for me. Suzuki I have heard only a little, but liked what I did hear. But this Gardiner to me promises to be the best of the lot when completed, though it won’t be entirely complete; but I can live with that.

Each set is very expensive, clocking in at around 21 bucks. The outfit is very nice, with hardbound covers and good notes inside. Interpretatively, of all the period instrument recordings Gardiner reminds me most of my favorite, Karl Richter. A comparison of the two is revealing, with the tempo choices and spirit of the music quite similar. Of course, Richter had an unbelievable vocal cast, and Gardiner cannot match this. While Richter’s sound is nothing to snuff at either, these are quite competitive with his, and they do sound much better. Nevertheless, anyone who does not have Richter’s set of 75 cantatas is missing out on one of the treasures of the catalogue, and in my opinion you have not heard Bach unless you have heard these.

Most of these recording are completely “live”, though there were safety sessions that took place for splicing purposes in case of some egregious accident or audience disturbance. The sense of occasion is palpable, and one can feel the excitement of a concert performance that adds greatly to the value of this series. There is a lot to choose from in the Bach cantatas these days, and this series, when all is said and done, will be among the choicest picks.

— Steven Ritter 

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