JS Bach: Cantatas Vol. 22 (Eisenach): BWV 4, 6, 31, 66, 134, 145

LABELS: Soli Deo Gloria
WORKS: Cantatas Vol. 22 (Eisenach): BWV 4, 6, 31, 66, 134, 145
PERFORMER: Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
John Eliot Gardiner’s strongest qualities are evident in these performances of six Easter cantatas made in his on-going Bach Cantata Pilgrimage series. I particularly admire the fervour with which Gardiner imbues the music, his lively responses to the many instances of word-painting and his intuitive feeling for dance rhythms. These cantatas were performed and recorded at Eisenach, Bach’s birthplace in April 2000: included are pieces penned for Easter Day (BWV 4 and 31), Easter Monday (BWV 6 and 66) and Easter Tuesday (BWV 134 and 145). Gardiner previously recorded two of the Cantatas, BWV 6 and 66, on the Archiv label in 2000, but in the studio (and with different soloists); the result, as we might expect, was less spontaneous and less engaging than the present live recordings. The powerfully expressive Lutheran hymn ‘Christ lag in Todes Banden’ (BWV 4) provided Bach with the text of one of his earliest cantatas, a masterly composite picture, throughout in E minor of death and resurrection. Gardiner gives an intense and heartfelt account of it, yet, to my ears, just oversteps the bounds of contextual propriety in the declamation, almost hysterical at one point of verse four of the hymn. Nevertheless, the voices are commendably agile and disciplined and I can say without hesitation that this is the most enlivening performance around at the moment. While Masaaki Suzuki and Ton Koopman keep faith with the ardent spirit of the text, neither makes as much of the resourcefully structured contrasts that Bach built in to avoid monotony. In this respect Gardiner’s well-attested sense of theatre is second to none. We can always rely upon him to blow away cobwebs and instil an invigorating freshness of spirit as the exuberant duet in BWV 134 alluringly demonstrates. On another level, Steve McCurry’s intense and penetrating portrait on the cover makes the issue doubly attractive. Nicholas Anderson