Cantatas Vol. 18

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LABELS: Soli Deo Gloria
WORKS: Cantatas, Vol. 18: Christen, ätzet diesen Tag, BWV 63; Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191; Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen, BWV 65; Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen, BWV 123; Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren, BWV 154; Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht, BWV 124; Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen, BWV 32
PERFORMER: Claron McFadden, Magdalena Ko˘zená (soprano), Bernarda Fink, Sally Bruce-Payne, Michael Chance (alto), Christoph Genz, James Gilchrist (tenor), Dietrich Henschel, Peter Harvey (bass); Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner


The release of these two-disc sets of cantatas completes John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage. It began in Weimar on Christmas Day 1999, and throughout 2000 the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists performed almost all of Bach’s church cantatas, celebrating the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death as well as the new millennium.

While much of what we hear in this series of discs was captured live during the Pilgrimage concerts, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that seven of Bach’s cantatas are omitted from the overall collection: BWV 29,119, 120, 157, 195, 196, 197.

Gardiner’s performances are characterised by a distinctive fervour emanating from his deep and long-standing love of the music. Sometimes I have found his tempos uncomfortably brisk but the interpretations are otherwise seldom misjudged and never dull; and, as we might expect from live performances, there is an expressive spontaneity.

Vol. 18 contains Christmas cantatas recorded at the first concert in 1999 as well as works for Epiphany performed during the following fortnight. Christen, ätzet diesen Tag (BWV 63) gets the Pilgrimage off to a jubilant and diversely scored start. Its two choruses occupy almost two thirds of Bach’s score and are robustly delivered by Gardiner’s musicians.

The two strongly contrasting arias, both duets, are expressively sung but it is Bernarda Fink’s beautifully controlled, extended recitative which stands out for its tender articulation. Gloria in excelsis Deo (BWV 191)is the only music in cantata form which Bach set to a Latin text.

It derives from a Mass (1733) which was eventually to become part of the B minor Mass. The fugal elements of its two choruses and those of the processional opening chorus of Sie werden aus Saba (BWV 65) come across with a linear clarity as well as a textural transparency that enables us to hear the two recorders (BWV 65). James Gilchrist makes a fine contribution later in the work and notably in the solo tenor cantata, Ich armer Mensch (Vol. 12).

The Trinity cantatas contained in Vol. 12 were performed in the UK in the autumn of 2000. Best known is Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 140), but Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit (BWV 115) is on a comparable artistic plane.

Too often, the opening chorus of BWV 140 lacks the sense of occasion implicit in Philipp Nicolai’s text and with which the music is richly endowed. Not so here. Gardiner with his characteristic sense of theatre imbues the piece with urgency and anticipation. BWV 115 is masterly throughout.


It possesses a stirring choral fantasia and two arias of outstanding beauty: the first (alto) a slumber aria, the second a superbly crafted contrapuntal dialogue between soprano, flute and violoncello piccolo. Nicholas Anderson