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Showing 1-10 of 10 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 18 reviews
on September 14, 2014
Stated baldly: If you acquire only one recording of Bach's church cantatas, this is the set to purchase. And for all you Bach freaks (like me) out there: Get this recording anyway, even if you were not planning on it.

Gardiner's Bach Cantata Pilgrimage demonstrates, among other things, just how far historically informed performance on period instruments has come in the past 30 or so years. This is most obvious when compared to the venerable, pioneering cycle jointly produced by Gustav Leonhardt and Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Though this is not the proper forum to discuss how that project has, over the years, come to sound somewhat "dated"-- and I'm sure Harnoncourt himself has newer things to say when it comes to Bach's cantatas -- I find that Gardiner's broader range of tempi, expressive (some might argue over-expressive) use of dynamics, and imaginative variety of articulation certainly make his cycle more accessible, perhaps more amenable to early 21st-century ears.

It's ridiculous, really, to try and prove just how excellent Gardiner can be. Still, I'd like to mention a few favorites selected from 1208 tracks of music spread over 58 hours and 40 minutes. All are meltingly beautiful (though I should admit that I've always had a weakness for fine singers paired with fine oboists):
"Ich habe genung," the opening aria from BWV 82 (disc 8 track 6)
"Es ist vollbracht," the last aria from BWV 159 (disc 11 track 18)
"Wo zwei und drei versammlet sind," the first aria from BWV 42 (disc 15 track 17)

Gardiner's ensemble consistently projects a beguiling freshness behind their performances -- could this be a function of their insanely swift turnover rate, rehearsing and recording a new set of cantatas every week for an entire year? Yet the potential for disaster was somehow averted, and the results never sound under-rehearsed or (even worse) over-planned.

It's already been noted elsewhere that this box set includes all of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage originally released by Soli Deo Gloria in 27 volumes, plus the Ascension cantatas and oratorio that were recently added as "volume 28" (and thus slightly out of liturgical sequence). More importantly, the four discs issued by DG Archiv before they bowed out of the project have been finally reinstated -- a total of 14 cantatas that were excluded from SDG's 28-volume series. (The cantatas in question were for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, Purification, the Ninth Sunday after Trinity, and Eleventh Sunday after Trinity.)

Therefore, the appearance of the entire, newly reconstituted cycle in this compact package makes this a better buy than the incomplete original set of 27 (no, 28) individual volumes. Note also that the discs are more logically ordered than the original volumes, appearing in strict chronological order. (And volume 28, recorded in 2012, has now been inserted in its proper liturgical position as disc 20.)

Although one may object that the liner notes are no longer present, an additional CDR provides a separate file (or "booklet") for every disc. These include all of the original introductory essays -- Gardiner's keenly observant journal entries, with Ruth Tatlow's notes from the DG Archiv discs -- with the cantata texts and translations. Unfortunately, all photos from SDG's original notes, which always included a vignette of the church where each disc was recorded, are no longer present. Nonetheless, aside from the occasional interior shot -- such as one of the stunning nave vaulting of Sherborne Abbey, or of the visually magnificent (if mechanically unreliable) Trost organ at Altenburg's Schlosskirche -- photos were never a major feature of SDG's presentation.

Of course, completists (like me) will want to know what Gardiner did not include in his cycle:

1) Obviously, he omits cantatas that are too fragmentary or incomplete to realize in performance, such as BWV 197a (realized somehow for Masaaki Suzuki's recently completed cycle on BIS), and BWV 193 (included in Ton Koopman's cycle on his label, Antoine Marchand).
2) Also ignored are the four inauguration cantatas for Leipzig: BWV 26, 69, 119 and 120. (However, Gardiner did include the inauguration cantata for Mühlhausen, BWV 71.)
3) The three known wedding cantatas are likewise not present: BWV 120a, 195, 197.
4) Gardiner omits the two funeral cantatas, BWV 106 and 157. (However, he recently released the `Actus tragicus' BWV 106 with the Easter oratorio.)
5) Finally, one cantata for an unknown occasion, BWV 196, was also left out. (But note that Gardiner recorded all six of the others in this category, and BWV 150 actually appears twice.)

From an aesthetic standpoint, the box set is presented in an attractive, pleasingly compact format. Collectors of SDG's original volumes may have found the covers, featuring photo portraits by Steve McCurry, an odd match for sacred music by a German composer dead for more than 2 1/2 centuries. In time, McCurry's portraits became oddly comforting, symbolizing the humanity one hopes to find in Bach's music. Happily, this current set positively celebrates McCurry's work: the original 28 portraits are now expanded to 56 (one for each disc) and the 28 colorful miniatures on the lid give an appealing, bejeweled look to this treasure chest of musical art.
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on February 20, 2014
It's hard to review something like this - hours of music across 56 CDs. The truth is, I already had started buying the double sets when they came out and decided to take advantage of this set when it was offered.

My collection of Bach Cantatas includes releases by Koopman and Suzuki, not to mention one-off CDs by others in HIP circles. I don't always prefer the Gardiner readings over the others, but that's not to say that they're not worth a listen.

While I have not yet listened to the whole set, I can say there is a consistency here in the artistic or aesthetic approach. Gardiner's book, Music in the Castle of Heaven, is a nice companion volume to read about Bach's history, at least through Gardiner's lens. His view of Bach and the cantatas I'd say is congruent. What we get in interpretation is a full-blooded approach, with an intensity of passion, sometimes tempo, and special attention to emotion.

What makes the recordings special, I think, is the context in which they were recorded. These are not studio recordings (there was less time to prepare, perhaps), but they are recorded in real churches and for that we get both the church acoustic and the "live thrill" of live performances. In almost every case, the recorded sound quality is wide and spacious.

Watching some of the videos about this project on YouTube (originally, I believe, one was aired on BBC), gives even more insight into the project's reach. These musicians clearly love Bach, and that love for his sacred music comes across well in the performances.
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on November 12, 2016
I also have the Helmuth Rilling edition and several volumes the Ton Koopman edition. The Helmuth Rilling edition has a lot of talent which I enjoy but it's relatively poorly recorded, which is so a shame. The several volumes of the Ton Koopman CDs that I listened to were well recorded quite well and very pleasant to listen to. But it's this Gardiner edition that I'm keeping in my playlist. It's well recorded and the performances are such a pleasure to listen to.
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on August 28, 2014
John Eliot Gardiner is undoubtedly the greatest living Bach conductor and scholar. He was brought up on Bach – a famous portrait of the composer hung in his home in England for protection during World War II – and has lived his music, especially his choral music, ever since. There are many recordings of the Bach cantatas. I might prefer one or the other depending upon conductor, singers, or recording quality, but for a complete set these are indispensable – brilliant sound, superb singers and instrumentalists, all brought together by the overarching direction of Gardiner. It is true that some of his tempos are faster than others, faster perhaps than I would choose, but they show a consistency of approach which is ultimately satisfying. My one criticism is that the CDs are not arranged according to number or even date, but by occasion, so CD1 “For Christmas Day” contains cantatas #63 and #191. This makes it more complicated than necessary to find the cantata you’re looking for (there’s a booklet which arranges them numerically). I also don’t understand the artwork – CD1 shows a troubled young boy in a turban?? But these drawbacks are minor and more than overcome by the sheer richness of this collection. Essential.
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on March 5, 2015
Purchased a few years ago, have listened all the way through several times.

Brilliant music, of course. One wonders why many of the Cantatas aren't better known. Personally, I know the rest of Bach's music pretty well, but many of these I heard for the first time in these recordings.

Excellent performances, as we've come to expect from JEG. The tempi are quick - a bit too fast at times. Occasionally there are very quirky textual interpretations. Not entirely flawless. For my taste, the interpretation is sometimes a bit lacking in a way that's hard to describe, but has something to do with a sort of brilliance without depth, an absence of deep feeling or an impatience of some kind. For example the love duet with Jesus in BWV 21 sounds sensual when it should sound deeply religious. A kind of superficiality crops up here and there, especially in comparison with recordings by Herreweghe which require a little more patience and are better in my opinion.

Packaging is functional; the CDs are protected as long as they are in the box. My only complaint here - I can't express how much I dislike the photos on the CD sleeves. They obviously took a chance with them, but who knows what they were trying to do, and it was a mistake. They are completely staged, fake, made up, pretentious images. I find them the antithesis of this music, which is what we always get from Bach: authentic, no-nonsense straight-talk.
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on November 7, 2013
The contents of this box set are one of the world best J.S. Bach church cantata performance. There are only a few conductors achieve complete set recording of Bach's church cantatas. Even among them, this work shines. I had chances to listen to some of individual disks. (set 1 and 15) The performance is the best I have ever heard. Sir. Gardiner's recoding label, SDG did great job in term of recoding quality. All are from live performance of Bach Pilgrimage at year 2000. Although it is live recording, sound is as good as any of studio performance or even better. I have been waiting for a long time to get this set since I saw this cantata series in Amazon.

The box is quite small even though it has 56 CDs. Maybe the size is 2/3 of Glenn Gould Bach box set. As other complete box set, CDs are in individual paper sleeve. The bonus CD contains all original booklet articles. For me, it is not as luxury as I expected, it is still nice and easy to use. (The original, booklet like CD box is absolutely beautiful, but it is not that sturdy and practical.)

But, I put only 3 stars on this great product, because I experienced some quality control issue on this product. My first one was delivered with fully dented outer box. I could not find any serious damage on the Amazon shipping box. Amazon did good job as usual. The damage may happen before shipping. I returned it and placed a replacement order. My second one has a good outer box, but half of CD sleeves inside of the box are totally damaged. I will return that and be waiting for 3rd one. If I get a decent one next time, I will adjust the star point.


I got my 3rd one, which is in decent shape. I still have concern the outer box and CD sleeves are not very durable. CD sleeves easily develop scratch and crack on folding edge. The outer box is also not very sturdy and easily get damaged. I just started to listen to the CDs and as expected the performance is superb. I revised my star rating from 3 to 4. Highly recommended.
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on March 2, 2017
How best to say this? In terms of importing into iTunes, this box is a logistical nightmare in terms of inconsistency and disorganization. And not just because there are 56 discs, mind you! But rather, the track titling and numbering is so incredibly varied, requiring manual editing each and every track of each and every disc, otherwise things will get lost. I'm far from obsessive-compulsive, but when I want to learn something new, in this case a monumental task, I need to have a certain strategy, like how every chef prepares a mise-en-place of ingredients before preparing a feast. This box is already overwhelming, of course, but when some tracks are formatted with Cantata at the beginning while others have it at the end, some tracks are formatted with BWV at the beginning while others have it at the end, some tracks use 1/2/3 while others use 01/02/03 while others use I/II/III/IV while others aren't numbered at all. And not even these inconsistencies are consistent from disc to disc or cantata, it's mind-boggling. So in a playlist of 1,400 tracks the first track from the first disc can be in first position on the list while the second track from the second disc can be way down at the bottom of the list while the third track from the first disc can be somewhere in the middle of the list, there's literally no rhyme or reason -- and since it is my goal to FINALLY LEARN these works, completely and comprehensively, I really wish I could do so through iTunes. And I'm really not making a big issue out of nothing. Honestly, a lot of these discs uploaded with incorrect artist names and/or without even proper album information, etc.
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on November 24, 2013
Brilliant performances and recording. The Bach 250 yrs anniversary tour of Monteverdi choir and EBO is immortalized in these recordings. Great value.
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on January 7, 2015
if you are looking for the best bach experience for yourself or anyone, this is it. Perfection in a box. And if you don't believe me, then you must try it yourself. Simply stunning.
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on August 19, 2014
It's a treasure for me!
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