With the John Eliot Gardiner "Bach Cantata Pilgrimage" series, as issued on Soli Deo Gloria, all recorded during a live tour and gradually parsed out in packages practically identical in appearance, one can be forgiven for some confusion regarding this series. Although this is Bach Cantatas, Vol. 2, and was recorded in Paris and Zurich in the summer of 2000, the two-disc set is the 24th issue in the series and was not released until the spring of 2010, patiently waiting almost a full decade for its turn in the release sequence. The Paris performance on the first disc features Bach's cantatas for the Second Sunday After Trinity (BWVs 2, 10, and 76) along with Heinrich Schütz's motet "Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes," which shares the same melody as Bach's source for BWV 76. The second, Zurich performance includes Bach's cantatas for the Third Sunday After Trinity, BWV 21 and 135, only, so the program is filled out with a performance of the Triple Concerto in A minor, BWV 1044. Soloists include Stephen Varcoe and Daniel Taylor in Paris and Katharine Fuge in Zurich; oddly, the instrumental soloists in BWV 1044 are not singled out in the package notes, though they are more than likely section leaders from within the English Baroque Soloists. Though top billed, the Monteverdi Choir is heard only intermittently of course, but enough to reserve its rightful place as the star of the show, apart from Gardiner himself.
These performances are to some extent conditioned by the vagaries of live recording; the sound in Paris' Basilique Saint-Denis is good but not awesome, whereas in Zurich's Fraumünster Kirche the sound is clearer and has a bit more presence. An important part of the basic concept of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage was that each concert be given in a different European landmark. Alto Daniel Taylor is not having a particularly good night in Paris, but that's not too much of a distraction; overall the soloists, both instrumental and vocal, acquit themselves well although it's a little hard to hear the harpsichord in the Triple Concerto. All of the performances are crisp and professional, and there is something of a traditional aspect to them; Gardiner clearly prefers a romantic approach in the handling of the chorus and the band is a little bigger than a typical, one-or-two-to-a-part period instrument ensemble. If a listener is already investing in this series, then Soli Deo Gloria's Bach Cantatas, Vol. 2, should more or less deliver what the others in the same series put forth. However, if the listener is only looking for a recording of one or even all of these pieces, weighing one's relative options might not be a fruitless task.