The French word `grand' possibly corresponds both to English `Grand' and to English `Great'. All Bach's cantatas in this compilation issued by EMI France under the title `Les Grandes Cantates' are great works, and BWV 80, 140 and 147 are also `grand' cantatas in the sense that they include weighty choruses and chorals and rather require a large orchestra than a small group of instrumentalists (at least, this was believed in the period when these recordings were made). BWV 106 is a more intimate and personal work, while BWV 51 and 82 are solo cantatas for soprano (BWV 51) and bass voices.
The gem of the set are two recordings of BWV 80 and 140, made by Wolfgang Gönnenwein in 1967. They are on CD1. As most conductors, Gönnenwein uses in BWV 80 the orchestration with three trumpets and timpani, likely added by J.S. Bach's son, Wilhelm Friedemann. It works here: the trumpets add the aggression in the noisy and militant first chorus of BWV 80 and are not felt as a pure decoration. The vocalists in BWV 80, 140 are excellent. The most famous of them are Janet Baker and Elly Ameling, but I would specially praise the bass Hans Sotin: so well-trained deep voices are seldom heard in Bach's cantatas.
The tenor Theo Althmeyer who sings in BWV 80, 140 and 106 is very good too. The mezzo-soprano Sybil Michelow and the bass Franz Crass who sing in BWV 106 are OK. The soprano Edith Mathis engaged in BWV 106 was caught in a bad day. The same can be said about Helen Donath who sings in Marriner's recording of BWV 51 (CD 1, tracks 9-13): this recording is made much later, in 1983. Although BWV 51 is a virtuoso cantata for a coloratura soprano, and Donath can be classified with this type, her singing is neither effortless (go to Elly Ameling's recording with Winshermann J. S. Bach: Cantatas BWV 51 & 199. Elly Ameling, Sop.) nor especially elegant. The trumpeter Maurice André engaded in the same cantata recording is surely a winner in a competition with the soprano.
The recording of BWV 147 (CD 2, tracks 10-19) made by Geraint Jones in 1957, is not faultless, but here you get Joan Sutherland in the soprano aria `Bereite dich, Zion'. Although this is not idiomatic Bach singing - many modern purists (not me) would blame Sutherland's vibrato and prefer more thin, boyish sounding voices, it is beautiful. The alto (Helen Watts) and tenor soloists are good. The baritone Thomas Hemsley has intonation problems. All in all, this is a sweet and unpretencious historic recording.
BWV 80, 140 and 147 are based on famous Lutheran chorals, "Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott" (BWV 80), "Sleepers, awake" (BWV 140) and "Jesu, Joy of Man's desiring" (BWV 147).
Gönnenwein's version of one of Bach's greatest cantatas - the funeral `Actus Tragicus', BWV 106 (CD 2, tracks 1-4), was recorded in Stuttgart, 1965. It is a step behind the best versions. My main beef, apart from the fact that I do not like Edith Mathis's mannered singing here, is that I do not hear a personal feeling and appropriate severity (what a topic - "Man ! You must die. This is an old bond.") characteristic for more profound accounts recorded in the 1950-s and 1960-s by Günther Ramin, Karl Richter Bach: Cantatas BWV 4, 26, 51, 56, 61, 80, 106, 147, Felix Prohaska and Hermann Scherchen Johann Sebastian Bach : Kantaten BWV 84, 106 & 140 (Cantatas Recording 1950-1951). Here I rather hear a good concert performance than sacred practice or an emotional experience.
Finally, BWV 82 `Ich habe genug' (CD 2, tracks 5-9) is a solo bass cantata written on a topic similar to that of BWV 106. The most impressive voice even heard in this cantata probably belongs to Hans Hotter Bach: Cantata No. 82 "Ich habe genug"; Brahms: Vier ernste Gesänge; 12 Lieder and the most refined and intellectual performances are left by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau who especially excelled in the recitatives: his intonation and diction are exemplary. Gérard Souzay who sings here has a voice superior to Fi-Di, but is far behind him in the recitatives and in the overall conception. This is Souzay's first recording of BWV 82, made with Geraint Jones in 1958. A later Souzay's recording with Helmut Winschermann Bach J.S: 13 Sacred Cantatas is finer, but here he is in a better voice. To sum up, this Souzay's variant is rather a feast for the ear than a profound interpretation.
As a whole, this is a good compilation with performances ranging from `great' (BWV 80, 140) to `fair' (BWV 51). Some of them are also hard to get on CD. The best recordings in this compilation - Goennenwein's BWV 140 and BWV 80 - are available in other compilations, see Bach: Cantatas BWV 80, 140, 147; Jesu, meine Freude.