This release and others in the Das Alte Werk series will, for most purchasers, be welcome replacements for LPs they have owned and played for forty years and more. Fashions in performance practice are as variable as those in couture, and given a choice, most people will, as it were, opt for a jacket with this year's cut or a skirt with this year's hemline. Those willing to venture farther afield, however, will find in the selections on this two-CD set several performances of enduring value and several performers--notably Kurt Equiluz and Max van Egmond--who were marked out for greatness then and have been neither surpassed nor equaled since. Their work here shows them at their remarkable youthful best.
It must be noted, however, that Cantata 18 is not as described. The performance included in this set is most decidedly not the one made under the direction of Jürgen Jürgens. As soon as the second movement begins and the voice of Max van Egmond rather than the expected Jacques Villisech is heard, it is evident that the Nikolaus Harnoncourt performance of a decade or more later has been substituted. How could such a gaffe be made by the producers of this set or, having once been made, pass unnoticed by anyone at Warner Music? So as ever, caveat emptor.
(Incidentally, many months after I bought this set and almost as many months after I brought the production error to the attention of the customer service folks at Warner Classics, someone at the company sent me an e-mail saying that the version of Cantata 18 used in future pressings would be corrected at some time soon. He also promised me a replacement for the set I had bought. I was, briefly, encouraged enough to give Warner two cheers for the hopeful news, the third cheer attending upon the company's promise becoming a reality. Those events, however, date from more than a year ago. Need I say that the third cheer is still on hold and that I am not counting on the proximate fulfillment of this corporate promise?)
Even with the just-expressed caution, the set has more to be said for it than against it. Whoever did the remastering did a very commendable job. Would that the same could be said for the set's producer and distributor.
All in all, three stars would be a bit stingy, four a bit too generous. Split the difference, and call it three and a half.
Update (9/20/2011). Thanks to the courtesy of another Amazon reviewer, R. Lane, I have learned that Warner Classics has released a revised and corrected pressing of this release. That is to say, Mr. Lane reports (cf. his comment below) that the recording of Cantata 18 included in this set is now actually the one the label claims it is: the Jürgen Jürgens recording. This is unqualifiedly good news, but given the likelihood that a certain number--perhaps a quite large number--of copies of the older, uncorrected pressings are still out and about, prudence suggests that prospective buyers ask questions of their seller before they buy. (Whether questions will yield useful answers is a matter best left for another day and another venue.)