On Christmas day, 1999, in celebration of the coming Millenium, John Eliot Gardiner, with selected forces, set out to perform all of J.S. Bach’s Cantatas at or close to the times in the church year for which they were originally composed. This was to take place during the coming year 2000, the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death and was to be a year-long series of performances at many of Europe’s most celebrated churches and cathedrals, culminating with three final concerts in New York City.
This particular 2 CD set, the first program to take place on British soil, was recorded at two legendary architectural (and acoustic) sites: The Old Royal Naval College Chapel, Greenwich and Romsey Abbey, Hampshire.
The spiritual and musical glory of Bach is front and center in these live recordings: Cantatas: BWV 155, 3, 13, 26, 81, 14 and the Motet BWV 227. High drama, deft musical symbolism, and astonishing vigor are in abundance. There is a freshness and clarity of these performances , which is unavailable in the recording studio. One senses that these performances are unique as is. This is magnificent Bach performed and recorded at the highest artistic level with ultimate devotion by all involved within the project.
DGG cancelled the Cantata Series soon after inception. But for the courage and commitment of John Eliot Gardiner, the project would have been lost. Instead, Gardiner’s label, Soli Deo Gloria was born. Now, in addition to this incomparable Bach cantata series, SDG has released Mozart Symphonies 39 and 41 “On the Night”. These are performances from a concert February 9, 2006 at Cadogan Hall, London, released to the audience directly after the concert. If the bit-stream of the 4th movement of the Symphony # 41 is representative, these should be most treasured additions to the discography of essential Mozart symphonies.
The entire Bach Cantata Pilgrimage Series will be available on-line as it as released. This is music of unsurpassed grandeur with recorded performances worthy of the achievement of the composer.
I would be most remiss, if I did not mention that this SDG Bach release is entirely first class. The cover art work is of the quality of a Skira reproduction. The introduction and liner notes are from John Eliot Gardiner’s journal kept during the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, revealing his unique insights into Bach’s music and these performances. With the highest recommendation!
— Ronald Legum