This volume of John Eliot Gardiner's year-long `pilgrimage' through the Bach cantatas contains, on one disc, four works that the master produced for the feast of St John the Evangelist, 27 December, over the years 1723 to 1725. The locus chosen this time was St Bartholemew's church in New York, and the concert we are given was the second last of the entire programme.
As in the other issues that I have so far collected from this admirable series, there is no hint that the performers are tired or demob-happy, and none that the recording technicians experience any difficulty in adjusting to yet another acoustic. None of the works here was previously familiar to me, and any sense that I might have been remiss in this matter was at least eased on learning that these cantatas were not very well known to the performers either. I'm not sure whether I am surprised or not by the stylistic command and technical proficiency that meets me here again. I had predicted it with confidence, but it is surely astonishing all the same. The solo vocal work is shared out among no fewer than three sopranos, together with two male altos and a single tenor and bass. The male altos are very easy on the ear (not something I have always found elsewhere), but the entire ensemble, instrumental and choral as well as the soloists, is admirable. No doubt in years to come there will be other distinguished accounts of this and that Bach cantata - indeed there are quite a few already - but whatever the future competition in the four presented here you could not possibly go wrong with this disc.
The format is the familiar one. The disc is enclosed in a kind of book, with Gardiner's standard foreword, another of his long, learned and highly personal essays that he wrote originally as a project log, a shorter individual contribution by one of the performers, and the full texts of the cantatas with English translation. It comes to roughly an hour and a quarter's music, and what music. Salvation of the soul no doubt comes in other forms as well, but even the most hardened agnostic must surely feel he is making progress of the most agreeable kind towards that outcome if he follows in the steps of this pilgrimage.