This two-disc set is volume 21 in conductor John Eliot Gardiner's series of recordings of Bach's complete sacred cantatas -- a project dubbed "The Bach Cantata Pilgrimage" because each disc preserves a complete concert given at different locations around the world. On the first disc, recorded at King's College Chapel in Cambridge on March 5, 2000, Gardiner and his Monteverdi Choir and his period instrument English Baroque Soloists present four cantatas composed for Quinquagestima Sunday. On the second disc, recorded at Walpole St. Peter in Norfolk on March 26, 2000, Gardiner and his forces present three cantatas composed for the Annunciation and Palm Sunday.
For fans of the conductor, his return to Bach's music after years of exploring more recent repertoire -- remember his recording of Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances? -- will be a return to the music he does best. And it's true that Gardiner's Bach performances have a lightness of touch and a depth of feeling that few of his recordings of later music can match. But the greatest virtue of Gardiner's Bach performances is their wholly devotional character. Whatever the cantata and whomever the vocal soloists, Gardiner's Bach is performed, as it were, on its knees with hands folded and head bent. So while those disinclined to credit the conductor with much feeling for later music may be tempted to dismiss his Bach for the same flaw, they will find little to object to here where, as the notes indicate, everything is done Soli Deo Gloria (For the sole glory of God). Monteverdi Production's sound is full, warm, deep, and detailed.