Bach - Cantatas Vols 1 & 8
Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists / Sir John Eliot Gardiner
(148’ · DDD · T/t)
‘Cantatas, Vol 1: City of London’ – Cantatas Nos 7, 20, 30, 39, 75 & 167 (Soli Deo Gloria, SDG101)
‘Cantatas, Vol 8: Bremen/Santiago de Compostela’ – Cantatas Nos 8, 27, 51, 95, 99, 100, 138 & 161 (Soli Deo Gloria, SDG108)
Recorded live at the Unser Lieben Frauen, Bremen, Germany, September 28, 2000; Santo Domingo de Bonaval, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, October 7, 2000.
In 2000 John Eliot Gardiner commemorated the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death with the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, a year-long European tour by the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir that presented all of Bach’s extant cantatas on the appropriate liturgical feast days. Here are the first two instalments of the complete cycle. Soli Deo Gloria’s presentation is first-class. The CDs are cased in a handsomely designed hardbound book, complete with texts, translations and Gardiner’s extensive, informative notes based on a journal he kept during the Pilgrimage.
The interpretations are consistently fine – often superb, in fact – with surprisingly few wrong steps or disappointments, especially given the unusually gruelling performance schedule that produced them. Among the many mind-blowing, beautiful moments is the deliciously syncopated contralto aria from No 30, sung with poise by Wilke te Brummelstroete and graced by playing of magical delicacy from the EBS. And there’s the extraordinary opening chorus of No 8, with its seemingly endless melodic tendrils, chiming flute part and plucked strings, sounding like a celestial dance. Special mention must be made of the artistry of tenor Mark Padmore, who maintains his sweet, ringingly clear tone even in the demanding leaps and roulades of his aria in No 95.
It’s in delicate or intimate music that Gardiner shines most luminously, and some may find that he unduly emphasises the contemplative. His thoughtful, refined approach is strikingly similar to Suzuki’s cycle on BIS, though Gardiner’s versions sound just a bit warmer. Although his interpretations offer the finest attributes of period practice – transparency and litheness – there’s a long-breathed musicality here that can be lacking in other accounts.