I have already posted this review elsewhere, but as this work has been reissued a number of times and in various formats, I thought that it might be useful to add it as appropriate. Others will, no doubt, have written authoritatively about the quality of the recording or the transfer, but I have confined myself largely to the merits of the performance.
With the release of the complete Bach cantatas by John Eliot Gardiner and Masaaki Suzuki, these recordings, made in 1957 (in Abbey Road) and 1967 (in the Stadthalle, Marbach) now seem something like museum pieces. It is certainly true that they are far from "authentic" performances, but they each have a great deal to offer, not least in terms of artistic sensitivity and singing.
The first disc shows its age more than the second; it features the cantata "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben" (BWV 147) and the motet "Jesu, meine Freude" (BMV 227), more familiarly known as "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring". Chorales were an important structural influence in Bach's work and they pervade the entire piece here. The cantata also concludes with a famous setting of this closing chorale.
The Geraint Jones Singers and Orchestra perform well under their conductor, but it would be foolish to pretend that this would be a first choice recording of this work. The solo singing is, however, something else. Thomas Hemsley's rather light baritone may be something of an acquired taste, but he is unfailingly musical in all he does and Helen Watts and Wilfred Brown are very fine indeed in their arias. The star of the show, however, is the young Joan Sutherland, whose performance of "Bereite dir, Jesu" is quite ravishing and is bereft of the idiosyncracies which marred some of her later recordings.
The second disc is of a more recent vintage and purists will find this more, if not entirely, to their taste. Two cantatas are featured here, the rather grand "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" (BMV 140) and "Ein' feste Burg" (BMY 80), based on the familiar Lutheran hymn, with its heavyweight opening and rather lightweight conclusion.
The South German Madrigal Choir and Instrumentalists and the Consortium Musicum under Wolfgang Gönnewein provide expert accompaniment for a quite superb quartet of vocal soloists. The stylish tenor Theo Altmeyer is very fine indeed, but it is the participation of the Wagnerian bass Hans Sotin which intrigued me the most; his was a wonderful voice, of course, and it blends surprisingly well with the soprano of Elly Ameling and the mezzo of Janet Baker, both of whom, it is almost needless to add, were virtually without peer in this repertoire.
Although neither of these versions would probably these days be anyone's first choice recordings, together they represent an irresistible bargain, offering listeners the opportunity to not only hear some very fine singing, but also to compare Bach performing styles over the past half century.
I had these cantatas on LPs many years ago and was so pleased to find them on cd.
Yes the sound quality is a little dated and the performances are not historically informed. But the singers are absolutely wonderful, the playing is beautiful, and each cantata is performed so well in accordance with its character. Wachet auf is sensual but logical with such a clear structure to the opening section, Ein feste burg has such grandeur and energy.
This recording might give you an impression as being a little old-fashioned. The tempo is quite slow and the texture of instrumentation is sightly heavy with a very connected singing.
However, the cantatas here are rendered brilliantly with superb musical quality, no matter of the date of performance. The soprano from Elizabeth Grummer is absolutely first class and there is a wonderful singing of Leipzig's Thomaner Choir, which both leave me bright and spirited feeling within me every time I listen to them. It is special to hear Bach sung in this way of simplicity and pure sincerity, by the choir of the church where Bach used to work for.
my 4 star rating is really only for Sutherland's performance of the aria Bereite dich Zion. Her tone is luminous and effortless compared to others who have recorded the aria. The other performances of the cantata and magnificat are too much of their time to bear repeated listening these days.