The text of one of the Christmas Day cantatas here actually says `Come to the dance' - kommt zum Reihen. To me it seems a very appropriate thing to say, as the Bach cantatas are a kind of dance of the cherubim and seraphim, the music of the angels of God. For newcomers, John Eliot Gardiner and his associates went on a `pilgrimage' in the year 2000, the 250th anniversary of the master's death, during which they performed all of them at a succession of different locations on the liturgical dates (so far as that is possible in different years) for which they were written. Christmas Day is obviously the same in as many years as you like, and I think that this may be the first inkling provided that the show got on the road just a week before its official year, with the cantatas for Christmas itself. This is the last of the 27-part series to be issued, it appears, it is obviously the first set of performances, so the reason why it has the sequence-number 18 must follow from those facts in some way.
The sequence of my own collecting is not such a truth above reason but ordinary basic numbering, and this is the 22nd of the series that I now own. My reviews of these have become repetitious, but I make no apology because what I have been repeating, with very rare exceptions, is an unqualified paean of praise. This is a simply magnificent project, not just for the vision and dedication needed to plan it and carry it through but for the sheer consistent excellence of the work at the individual level of the successive issues. This particular set makes a superb impression from the outset, with a particularly opulent sound deriving from the exceptionally large orchestral forces. The recorded quality is excellent, another characteristic of the whole series and one that must have tested the technical staff who had so many different venues to cope with. I have naturally been fascinated, after hearing so many later performances including the last of all, to listen to the inaugural effort. It is as good as any of them, and that is high praise indeed. All the performers, soloists chorus and instrumentalists, distinguish themselves, and the director's sense of conviction, stylistic grasp and feel for the greatness of the music plainly permeates what they all do.
There is one of the occasional `extras' this time, a set of texts from the Gloria of the Mass, given with the Christmas cantatas. The production itself is to the standard format, distinctive and distinguished, in a sort of book presentation. As always, there is one of Gardiner's lengthy, detailed and instructive `blogs'. Any amount can be learned from these, but if I may differ a little from the great man on this occasion I suggest that his immersion in the music has led him into praising Bach one step too far when he purports to find operatic talent. Bach turned away from opera, I say rather, because he had neither taste nor aptitude for it. His musical genius was indeed infinite, but not infinite in every sphere.
Another standard feature is a shorter essay by one of the participants, interestingly on this occasion one who has not apparently participated in the performances put on record here. Never mind, it is quality stuff as usual. I dare say that this notice comes rather late for a Christmas recommendation, but it is going to be a treasure in my own collection for as many Christmases as may remain to me.