Recorded in the City of London in 2012, this album features the missing cantatas from the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage: the Ascension Cantatas. They were recorded live at St Giles Cripplegate (one of the original Pilgrimage venues) in two concerts entirely funded by the generosity of hundreds of donors across the world, following a heartfelt appeal from British comedian Alexander Armstrong.
Volume 23 of John Eliot Gardiner’s Cantata Pilgrimage edition is devoted to the first and second Sundays after Easter, with Cantatas 158, for Easter Tuesday, and 150, for an unspecified occasion, tossed in for good measure. No. 150 may have been Bach’s earliest cantata, probably composed during Bach’s stay in Arnstadt, which, incidentally, is where Gardiner’s pilgrims performed and recorded it. Gardiner hypothesizes that Bach might have composed it to show what he could do, and to counter the criticism that had come his way after his extended absence in Lübeck and the incident with the “unauthorized maiden” (apparently his fiancée, Maria Barbara) in the choir loft. Cantata 158, for solo bass, is one of Bach’s late cantatas.
Actually, this cantata and the potent performance it receives here set me thinking, not for the first time, about the debate as to whether or not Bach intended these cantatas to be sung one voice to a part. Though he may have been driven to this expediency on occasion I’ve never been very comfortable with this idea, though Joshua Rifkin’s wonderfully intimate recording of BWV 106 came closest to convincing me otherwise.
This one features five lesser-known (to me anyway) cantatas, plus one motet, long attributed to Bach, but now known not to be by him. Again, we have the usual high-quality exploration of undeservedly forgotten repertoire, exquisite musical jewels being brought into the light again to shine. Gardiner offers fresh insight into these masterpieces, both in the performance and in his sleeve notes.