John Eliot Gardiner

Bach Cantatas, Vol. 20: Naarden/Southwell

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The Bach cantata pilgrimage of conductor John Eliot Gardiner, with his Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, began on Christmas of 1999 and continued through the year 2000. At first the musicians retraced some of Bach's steps through northern Germany, then performed in a variety of churches in England and northwestern Europe, matching the cantatas as closely as possible to the events in the liturgical year for which they were intended. It was an impressive logistical undertaking, supported financially by the Prince of Wales, among others, and the handsomely packaged live recordings that emerged from the project have taken several years to appear. This one is an excellent example of why they were worth the wait. There's nothing so radical about Gardiner's interpretations; he uses a moderate-sized choir at a time when the cutting-edge favors very small groups or even one voice per part, and his soloists, while more than competent, aren't the sort around whom a performance can be organized, as with some of the recent Bach cantata discs directed by Ton Koopman. Where Gardiner excels is in the pure human understanding of the texts Bach sets and of his response to them. Hear the almost sarcastic tone of the opening bass aria of the Cantata No. 181, Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister, BWV 181 (CD 2, track 6, the only possible complaint against the packaging is that there is no full tracklist other than the German and English texts of the cantatas themselves), or the militantly anti-Catholic and anti-"Turkish" (it's not only the Jews who get rough treatment from Bach) Cantata No. 126, "Erhalte uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort," BWV 126. Here Gardiner pushes tenor James Gilchrist to the absolute limit in the at first deceptively prayerful but soon over-the-top aria "Sende deine Macht von oben" (CD 2, track 12); Gardiner's conception of the overall mood rules the interpretation. He expands on those conceptions, taking into account historical and musicological matters, in booklet notes, based on his own journals during the trip, and these are in many cases worth the purchase price by themselves; they offer exceptional syntheses of technical and critical perspectives. Gardiner's Bach series isn't the most "perfect" available, but it may be the most profound. The sound in both these locations (one in the Netherlands, one in Britain) is clear, aided perhaps by backup rehearsal recordings made in case of fluffed notes or coughing audiences.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Title/Composer Performer Time
Cantata No. 144, "Nimm, was dein ist, und gehe hin," BWV 144 (BC A41)
1 1:38
2 5:19
3 0:46
4 0:52
5 2:53
6 1:16
Cantata No. 84, "Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke," BWV 84 (BC A43)
7 5:33
8 1:20
9 4:12
10 0:51
11 1:05
Cantata No. 92, "Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn," BWV 92 (BC A42)
12 5:21
13 3:27
14 2:49
15 3:07
16 1:13
17 4:20
18 2:14
19 3:32
20 1:20

Track Listing - Disc 2

Title/Composer Performer Time
Cantata No. 18, "Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt," BWV 18 (BC A44)
1 3:15
2 1:08
3 5:15
4 2:42
5 1:15
Cantata No. 181, "Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister," BWV 181 (BC A45)
6 2:45
7 1:35
8 2:36
9 0:40
10 4:18
Cantata No. 126, "Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort," BWV 126 (BC A46)
11 2:23
12 3:47
13 2:12
14 5:06
15 0:55
16 2:05
blue highlight denotes track pick