It should give any would-be reviewer pause (if he is alive to the fallibility of his own judgment) to find that when he is about to post a highly favourable notice of this disc there has been another assessment at about the time the disc was first issued (2000) which takes entirely the opposite view.
The general background is this. The year 2000 marked the 250th anniversary of Bach's death, and in that year Gardiner and his colleagues undertook the project of recording all Bach's cantatas on the liturgical dates for which Bach composed them. The thought of that has me terrified, until I think of the stupefying achievement of the composer himself. So far as I know, the entire series of recordings is now available, and my collection of it amounts now to 9 discs including this one, with two more queued awaiting their first hearing. I have another disc of Gardiner's, outwith the project in question, that provides a selection from the Christmas Oratorio (actually a string of cantatas), and I have 7 other Bach cantata discs featuring a variety of other distinguished artists. That, together with a lifetime of obsession with great music, constitutes the background from which I presume to have anything to say to anyone about our set of performances here.
The style that Gardiner adopts is comparatively severe. However it is no different from the approach that he takes in other cantatas in this series. So it may be, to judge from later comment that I have seen, that familiarity has come to breed respect. I buy into this way of doing the cantatas without reservation, because the real warmth comes from within, from a professional's awestruck admiration for what he is given to perform. I have not yet experienced any serious reservation concerning any aspect of the performances that I know so far, nor do I in the case of this one. The four soloists seem excellent to me, and so does the choir and so do the instrumentalists. It might be worth turning up the volume just a little with this disc, but whether you do that or not I can't imagine that most listeners will have much or any difficulty with the recorded quality, which is admirably clear as usual. The four cantatas here are short, as the third Sunday after the Epiphany is the fourth Sunday of January, and Bach does not prolong the already lengthy service unnecessarily in an unheated church. It all comes to just under an hour of music, but music that on its own outweighs the entire output of many a composer. For newcomers, there are probably no knockouts-at-first-hearing among the numbers, nothing quite in the category of Jesu Joy or Sheep May Safely Graze, or of Wir eilen from cantata 78 or Schlummert ein from cantata 82, although I might put the duet So geh ich from cantata 111 in that bracket. However with the Bach cantatas what we are considering is not individual freestanding masterpieces like the Beethoven sonatas but a single sublime and continuous stream of musical homage to the glory of God. The more of the others I get to know, the more I appreciate the four works here.
Why these cantatas and certain others appear on this label as distinct from the main numbered series in the familiar `book' format I have no idea whatsoever. This disc comes in the usual kind of jewel-box, which actually makes the cd's easier to handle and less liable to accidents. The liner contains the full texts with English and French translations, and as in the main series there is an essay by Gardiner plus one other. This latter is not by one of the soloists, but it sketches the biographical background, a time of multiple child-bereavements that must have tested even Bach's faith to its utmost. Gardiner's own contribution is also a different and shorter piece than elsewhere.
I can only reiterate that I like the disc without reservation and recommend it similarly. I hope and believe that others will not be disappointed.