Bach: Cantatas for Christmas / Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists

Release Date: 10/30/2012
Label: SDG
Catalog Number: SDG178
Number of Discs: 6

Physical Format:

CD
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$34.99
Notes and Editorial Reviews


BACH Cantatas for Christmas: No. 63 1-4 ; 191 1-4 ; No. 91 5,7,9,10 ; No. 110 6,8,9,10 ; No. 121 5,8,9,10 ; No. 40 7,9,10 ; No. 57 6,9,10 ; No. 64 7,9,10,11 ; No. 151 8,9,10,11 ; No. 133 5,9,10,11 ; No. 152 9-12 ; No. 122 5,9,10,12 ; No. 28 9,6,10,12 ; No. 190 9,10,12 ; No. 143 10,13,14,15 ; No. 41 10,13,14,15 ; No. 16 10,13,14,15 ; No. 171 10,13,14,15 ; No. 153 9,10,13,14 ; No. 58 9,10,13,14 ; No. 65 9,10,13,14 ; No. 123 9,10,13,14. Motet: Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 225 John Eliot Gardiner, cond 1 ; Claron McFadden (sop); 2 Bernarda Fink (alt) 3 ; Christoph Genz (ten) 4 ; Dietrich Henschel (bs) 5 ; Katharine Fuge (sop) 6 ; Joanne Lunn (sop) 7 ; Robin Tyson (alt) 8 ; William Towers (alt) 9 ; James Gilchrist (ten) 10 ; Peter Harvey (bs) 11 ; Gillian Keith (sop) 12 ; Daniel Taylor (alt) 13 ; Ruth Holton (sop) 14 ; Lucy Ballard (alt) 15 ; Charles Humphries (alt) 16 ; Sally Bruce-Payne (alt); Monteverdi Ch; English Baroque Soloists (period instruments) SOLI DEO GLORIA 178 (6 CDs: 385:11)


Here begins the parade of repackaged reissues. All of the cantatas in this six-disc box were previously released in separate volumes and reviewed in these pages by George Chien, all mostly positively. Provided below is a cross-referenced chart showing the cantata numbers, the Soli Deo Gloria volumes in which they first appeared, and the Fanfare issue in which they were reviewed to help you avoid duplications if you already acquired one or more of the original 27 releases.


Volume/SDG No. Issue Reviewed Cantata Numbers


14/113 29:5 40, 91, 110, 121


15/127 30:4 57, 64, 133, 151


16/137 31:4 28, 122, 152, 190


17/150 33:4 16, 41, 58, 143, 153, 171


18/174 34:4 63, 65, 123, 191


Extracted from these five volumes and assembled into this six-CD set are Bach’s 22 cantatas for the Christmas season, arranged across the discs in order by day—Christmas Day, First Day, Second Day, etc., on through Epiphany (January 6)—with the cantatas for the same day but composed for different years programmed sequentially. That is a nicety, if you care about such things, not afforded by the original releases in which these 22 cantatas appeared in separate sets.


Most readers, I’m sure, know that Gardiner’s mission to perform and record all of Bach’s surviving church cantatas throughout the year 2000, the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death, was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. It’s not that Bach’s cantatas haven’t been recorded in their entirety before; they have, indeed, a number of times. But never has the venture been compressed into a single year, nor the recordings made of live performances, each on the liturgical feast days for which the cantatas were composed, and in churches throughout Europe and some in the U.S.


In a way, you could say that Gardiner and his troupe must have almost experienced firsthand the duress Bach himself faced in having to ready for performance a new cantata every week and then some. Imagine having to compose, rehearse, and perform a new cantata for every Sunday and holiday of the year, and then have to do it all over again for two more years running. Gardiner kept up the pace for only one year, but to be fair, he covered all three years’ cycles in the course of those 12 months.


We’re so accustomed today to hearing these works performed by topflight professional musicians that we’ve come to expect a level of executional excellence and even take it for granted. But one has to wonder, really, what Bach’s congregation would have heard on a frigid late December Sunday morning in 1724 at Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church. We tend not to give it much thought, but if we did, we’d almost certainly have to conclude that by today’s standards the performances would have been less than spiritually uplifting. The combination of brand new music practically being sight-read after perhaps only one rehearsal by 12 unruly boy choristers, a handful of string players with nearly frozen fingers, an oboe and bassoon still thawing out, and organ pipes surely out of tune from the cold must have conspired to produce an effect that would make even our earliest period-instrument ensembles sound like the New York Philharmonic.


Now, in no way am I suggesting that these Gardiner performances suffer from the conditions under which Bach’s cantatas were first heard, but I’m not quite as sanguine about these recordings as colleague Chien seems to have been. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been dutifully collecting Masaaki Suzuki’s BIS cycle of the cantatas as each disc has come out, and I hear something in his performances that strikes me as somewhat lacking in Gardiner’s efforts, and that is meticulous preparation. Gardiner’s marathon cantata pilgrimage project has to be admired for the sheer stamina and steel it took to organize and carry out such an undertaking, and it can be appreciated for the great tribute to Bach that it is, but it did not, in my opinion, yield recordings that are competitive with the very best, either in terms of executional accuracy or inspired singing and playing. And you have to ask yourself, “How could it?” Traipsing all over Europe from one venue to another, 198 cantatas performed in 59 concerts over the course of a single year, musicians packing and unpacking suitcases in a different city and hotel room every few days with insufficient time to adjust to different climates and environments. It’s a wonder there weren’t mass collapses from exhaustion along the way. How could there possibly have been time for adequate rehearsal and preparation?


It’s not without reason that every complete Bach cantata cycle on record I’m aware of has been years in the making. The first volumes in the above-mentioned Suzuki cycle came out in 1995–6, and just now, in December 2012, Volume 52 has been released, with, according to my reckoning, another 17 cantatas still left to go.


Granted, the imperfections in Gardiner’s cycle are minor and subtle, all the more amazing for the conditions under which the performances took place, but blemishes nonetheless will still be noticed by the attentive listener: a momentarily wavering horn in No. 91, an insecure trumpet in No. 63, a shrill countertenor (William Towers) in the alto aria “In Jesu Demut kann ich Trost” from No. 151, a temporarily hooty, perhaps hoarse bass (Peter Harvey) in the long and demanding aria, “Lass, o Welt, mich aus Verachtung,” from No. 123—the poor guy is assigned the bass part in all but two of the cantatas—and the occasional scrappy passage in the violins and passing incident of questionable intonation in the chorus cumulatively combine to make these performances, as performances, not quite as finely polished or desirable as those by Suzuki or Koopman for those who prefer period instruments, or Rilling for those who prefer modern instruments.


For those who may not have spent an arm and a leg purchasing Gardiner’s original Soli Dei Gloria sets—they were very expensive—this reassembled six-disc set is currently being sold by Amazon for $34.99, less than $6 per disc. A thick booklet with extensive notes on each cantata in English and German is included, but, unfortunately, not the cantatas’ texts or translations.


I will conclude by saying something positive about John Eliot Gardiner. He’s the sort of leader we could all benefit from by sending him to the U.S. Congress. He’s a pragmatic legislator who seeks compromise and common sense in the best interests of the composer and music he conducts. He’s no one-to-a-part ideologue or doctrinaire partisan of all male soloists and choristers. As you can see from the sprawling header to these CDs, Gardiner is perfectly comfortable employing male and female soloists, depending on which he believes best suits the occasion, and his Monteverdi Choir is a gender-balanced mix of vocalists. While I’ve pointed out what I believe are shortcomings in Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, it still needs to be applauded as a remarkable achievement. If you never acquired any of the original volumes when they were first released, this six-disc reissue of the Christmas cantatas is a very economical way to sample what the full cycle is like. So, you may want to give it a try.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
1. Christen, ätzet diesen Tag, BWV 63 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Bernarda Fink (Mezzo Soprano), Claron McFadden (Soprano), Dietrich Henschel (Baritone), Christoph Genz (Tenor)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1713-1715 ; Cöthen, Germany
2. Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Bernarda Fink (Mezzo Soprano), Claron McFadden (Soprano), Dietrich Henschel (Baritone), Christoph Genz (Tenor)
Written: after 1740 ;
3. Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen, BWV 65 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Peter Harvey (Bass), Sally Bruce-Payne (Mezzo Soprano)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1724 ; Leipzig, Germany
4. Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen, BWV 123 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano), Sally Bruce-Payne (Mezzo Soprano), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Peter Harvey (Bass)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1725 ; Leipzig, Germany
5. Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, BWV 91 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: James Gilchrist (Tenor), Peter Harvey (Bass), Katherine Fuge (Soprano), Robin Tyson (Alto)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1724 ; Leipzig, Germany
6. Christum wir sollen loben schon, BWV 121 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: James Gilchrist (Tenor), Peter Harvey (Bass), Katherine Fuge (Soprano), William Towers (Countertenor)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1724 ; Leipzig, Germany
7. Dazu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes, BWV 40 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Robin Tyson (Alto)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1723 ; Leipzig, Germany
8. Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, BWV 110 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Joanne Lunn (Soprano), William Towers (Countertenor)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1725 ; Leipzig, Germany
9. Süsser Trost, mein Jesus kömmt, BWV 151 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Joanne Lunn (Soprano), Gillian Keith (Soprano), Katherine Fuge (Soprano), William Towers (Countertenor), Robin Tyson (Countertenor)
Written: 1725 ;
10. Ich freue mich in dir, BWV 133 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), Joanne Lunn (Soprano), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Gillian Keith (Soprano), Katherine Fuge (Soprano), William Towers (Countertenor), Robin Tyson (Countertenor)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1724 ; Leipzig, Germany
11. Selig ist der Mann, der die Anfechtung erdulet, BWV 57 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), Joanne Lunn (Soprano), Gillian Keith (Soprano), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Katherine Fuge (Soprano), William Towers (Countertenor), Robin Tyson (Countertenor)
Written: 1725 ;
12. Sehet, welch eine Liebe, BWV 64 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), Joanne Lunn (Soprano), Gillian Keith (Soprano), Katherine Fuge (Soprano), James Gilchrist (Tenor), William Towers (Countertenor), Robin Tyson (Countertenor)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1723 ; Leipzig, Germany
13. Gottlob! nun geht das Jahr zu Ende, BWV 28 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), Gillian Keith (Soprano), Katharine Fuge (Soprano), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Daniel Taylor (Countertenor)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1725 ; Leipzig, Germany
14. Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 190 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), Katharine Fuge (Soprano), Gillian Keith (Soprano), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Daniel Taylor (Countertenor)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1724 ; Leipzig, Germany
15. Das neugeborne Kindelein, BWV 122 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), Katharine Fuge (Soprano), Gillian Keith (Soprano), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Daniel Taylor (Countertenor)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1724 ; Leipzig, Germany
16. Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn, BWV 152 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), Katharine Fuge (Soprano), Gillian Keith (Soprano), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Daniel Taylor (Countertenor)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1714 ; Cöthen, Germany
17. Singet Dem Hern, BWV 225 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), Katharine Fuge (Soprano), Gillian Keith (Soprano), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Daniel Taylor (Countertenor)
18. Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele, BWV 143 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Ruth Holton (Soprano), Peter Harvey (Bass), James Gilchrist (Tenor)
Period: Baroque
19. Jesu, nun sei gepreiset, BWV 41 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), Ruth Holton (Soprano), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Lucy Ballard (Alto)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1725 ; Leipzig, Germany
20. Herr Gott, dich loben wir, BWV 16 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Lucy Ballard (Alto)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1726 ; Leipzig, Germany
21. Gott, wie dein Name, so ist auch dein Ruhm, BWV 171 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), Ruth Holton (Soprano), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Lucy Ballard (Alto)
Period: Baroque
Written: ?1729 ; Leipzig, Germany
22. Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind', BWV 153 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Sally Bruce-Payne (Mezzo Soprano)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1724 ; Leipzig, Germany
23. Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, BWV 58 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Peter Harvey (Bass), Ruth Holton (Soprano)
Period: Baroque
Written: 1727 ; Leipzig, Germany
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