On October 31, 2000 John Eliot Gardiner’s “Bach Cantata Pilgrimage” was in Wittenberg to sing the cantatas Bach composed for “Reformation Sunday.” I have several times praised and recommended Gardiner’s monumental achievement in recording all the cantatas on their liturgically appropriate feast. All twenty-seven volumes of the pilgrimage are now complete with the release of the final two albums this month.
The splendid musical performances are further enhanced by the notes that Gardiner has prepared for each album. He provides insights into Bach’s musical genius, and makes astute comments on various aspects of the performance and the churches in which they took place.
Here are some comments he wrote about the first cantata on the Reformation Sunday disc, “Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild“:
The opening movement is fashioned as a kind of ceremonial Aufzug or procession — a moving tableau of Lutheran folk on the march. But their militancy is not in the least grim-faced: the 62-bar introduction establishes a mood of outgoing joy and bonhomie. Underpinning the fanfares of the high horns is an insistent drum beat which, interpreted a little fancifully, replicates the hammering of Luther’s theses to the oak door at the back of the church.
The voices enter singly and spaciously with majestic sweep and a glorious arc to their phrases, a lustre more evocative of cherubim and seraphim than of sturdy Lutheran Hausfrauen on the warpath.
Gardiner concludes his reminiscences:
At the end of the concert the rather severe-looking pastor came forward. First, he acknowledged that the music-making had given “der alte bøse Feind” a good beating. Then, having spotted in the programme that our next port of call was to be Rome … he fixed me with his gimlet eye: “Carry the good work on to Rome!” he said, and turned on his heel.