Where to start with the Gardiner/Monteverdi Choir Bach Cantata CDs
February 25, 2014 12:19 PM   Subscribe

For the last few years I've been following the excellent reviews and accolades heaped upon the Monteverdi Choir's recordings of the Bach Cantatas with John Eliot Gardiner on the Soli Deo Gloria label. Daunted by the whole enterprise, I have not yet purchased any of them. Does anyone familiar with at least some of the recordings in this series have any idea where to dive in? I'm not necessarily interested in the most famous or most-recorded cantatas, but rather the most beautiful, the most artful, the most moving. I'm tempted to just buy the (near-$300) box set, but I'm afraid with my busy schedule I will never listen to them all. Currently, the only Bach cantata recordings I have are Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's and one from Nancy Argenta which starts off with Ich Bin Vergnugt Mit Meinen Glucke.
posted by matildaben to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's pretty hard to say which cantatas are the best.

Did you know the Gardiner series is on Spotify? You could listen to them there before putting down the three bills for the whole collection.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:24 PM on February 25, 2014

A Listener's Guide to the Cantatas provides one person's opinions.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 2:30 PM on February 25, 2014

Best answer: This is a most difficult question. As someone who does this stuff professionally (as in: being (besides other things) a player of baroque (keyboard) continuo and thus occasionally involved in the performance or recording of Bach's cantatas, or bits thereof), I cannot recall a single one among the cantatas I played that stuck out in any direction, since they're all so incredibly good, moving, and generally worthwhile.
I could imagine that some of the earliest ones may strike the listener as not yet quite as full-bodied polyphonic and maybe a little more subscribed to the straightforward sing-unto-the-lord style of Bach's German predecessors, but that doesn't say anything about the listening pleasure.

So I'd just get the lot and wade through them at the pace that suggests itself in relationship to your schedule. It's really a win-win situation: manage to listen to more? More win.

[and so… not to answer the original question, and not that it matters in any way: I'm not fully a fan of Gardiner's style, which often strikes me as too oh-so-jolly for this kind of music, often very fast for no real reason, and in general a tad too okay-let's-play-this-tune-y routined. Very good players, all, but a lack of oomph. For alternatives, there's Ton Koopman to consider, and Masaaki Suzuki. The old Teldec Harnoncourt-Leonhardt enterprise, on the other hand, while pathbreaking in almost all aspects at the time, might now seem dated (which I find sad as it shaped my musical upbringing).]
posted by Namlit at 3:05 PM on February 25, 2014

Best answer: We own the complete set, and listen to one or two cantatas from the series most Sunday mornings.

Basically, you cannot go wrong, and ultimately you will want to own all of them. There aren't really any dud cantatas. But also, the variety is so great there isn't really such a thing as a representative cantata either.

That said, here are a couple of individual recommendations -

Since you have to start somewhere, Volume 1 is a good place. You've got "Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot", with its beautiful opening chorus, the rabble-rousing "Freue sich, erlöste Schar", and the imposing "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort".

A volume that leaps out at me is Volume 10 - for "Ich elender Mensch" mostly. You have to hear at least the opening chorus of this cantata.

I also wouldn't want to be without Volume 21 - "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern", one of the most uplifting pieces of music composed in my view. The rest of this volume I remember being pretty good too but I haven't got time to listen to it all now!

Last Sunday's cantata "Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt" on volume 20 was a powerful one, with its choral interjections of "Erhör' uns lieber Gott".

I hope you manage to find something you enjoy - I'm pretty sure you will!
posted by liebchen at 3:31 PM on February 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

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