Bach's cantata repertoire could find no more enthusiastic advocate than John Eliot Gardiner. He is on record as saying that 'the heart of Bach's music lies in his church cantatas' and that these cantatas 'form a corpus of work which counts as one of the great glories of European music'. And at least one cantata here, the opening work, BWV 63, is one of Bach's very best. Joyous, melodic and life-affirming, it is the kind of music to convert sacred-music sceptics.
It is difficult to fault the CD either technically or artistically. As often, the sound quality in this studio series is crisper and more assured than in the Pilgrimage series. Here, the English Baroque Soloists exemplify what Baroque playing is at its best, with respect for period performance style allied to exuberance and supreme accuracy. Four stars though, because the last three cantatas don't quite match the dizzying heights of the first. Notwithstanding, a continual highlight of these cantatas is the exhilarating cello playing of (I presume) David Watkin - he's listed first of three cellists but receives no special accreditation for, amongst other things, the dazzling barvura passage accompanying the tenor recitative, BWV 63iv.
The recordings on this CD were made in 1998, all except BWV 133 at Abbey Road Studios in London. Such a relatively 'safe' venue allows performers to take the kind of risks that they'd probably prefer not to in the live Pilgrimage series.