Classical CD Reviews
BACH: Four Christmas Cantatas = For Christmas Day: BWV 91 & 110; For the Second Day of Christmas: BWV 40 & 120 – The Monteverdi Choir/English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner – [Vol. 14 of Cantatas series] Soli Deo Gloria
Published on December 7, 2005
This is another of the unprecedented recorded survey of the Bach cantatas performed on the liturgical feast day for which Bach composed them, in a yearlong pilgrimage in which the Choir and Soloists performed and recorded in some of the most beautiful churches in Europe – including many in which Bach himself had performed. The feat began Christmas day 1999 and most of it occurred during the year 2000, which was the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death. This concluding disc in the series was recorded at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City, where the musical pilgrimage ended with a program of the Christmas cantatas. The recording was done live and the note booklet carries excerpts from Gardiner’s journal of the project. The front covers of all of the series are striking portraits of people around the world; this one is a Tibetan child.
Cantata BWV 91 sets a hymn by Luther – Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ – as a majestic chorale. Gardiner refers in his notes to a festive tenor aria featuring three oboes swinging along “like prototype saxophones: Baroque big band music in the city of Village Vanguard!” He feels that these cantatas all exhibit a special sense of expectation common to Bach’s Christmas-period works. The other Christmas Day cantata is however more subdued and ancient-sounding, employing a modal melody that seems to take us to the Middle Ages. No. 40 is an unusually dramatic work, befitting its title “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested.” The fourth cantata, “To Christ we should sing praises,” is the most festive of the quartet of works. The six soloists of the Monteverdi Choir are all excellent, and there are of course complete translations of all four cantatas in the note booklet. The recording is very clean and not in the least obscured by the acoustic of the large church.
– John Sunier