The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: It’s Easter Sunday, so which recorded cycle of Bach’s cantatas is the best? Ask Alex Ross. | April 24, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Easter Sunday.

I can’t think of a better time to listen to — or to perform — the music of J.S. Bach (below).

Specifically, his vocal and choral music.

Specifically his “St. Matthew” and “St. John” Passions.

And especially his cantatas, numbering over 200 of which another 100 or so have been lost.

That means I also think of a better time to offer you an excellent summary review of two outstanding recorded cycles of Bach cantatas by famed music critic Alex Ross (below) of  The New Yorker magazine.

One is by John Eliot Gardiner, the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir, recording during the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage (below).

The other is by Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan (below). (There is no criticsl assessment of Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s pioneering period performance efforts or Ton Koopman’s or Helmut Rilling’s cantatas. But that is another story for another day.)

I like them both, sometimes for different reasons and sometimes for the same reasons. It depends on the cantata and on me  and on my mood. Sometimes you want more clarity and precision;  sometimes, you want more emotion.

But in the end, of course, it is kind of like deciding which Beethoven piano sonata cycle or which Mahler symphony cycle is the best.

The best thing is probably not to put all your Easter eggs in the same Easter basket, so to speak.

And it is probably best to seek out the best individual recording of each work, since no one artist or ensemble can do all of them full justice. Or maybe to get both sets.

But here is Alex Ross’ essay, loaded with insight and fine judgments – or so I hope you agree.

To believers and to non-believers alike, I hope you find this guide to some of the most moving and, yes, spiritual, music ever written as compelling, enjoyable and informative as I did:

Which Bach cantata cycle do you prefer and why?

What is your favorite Bach cantata?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music


  1. Thanks for this! I have been meaning to purchase a recording of his Cantatas. This helps:)

    Comment by Katrina Querriera — April 24, 2011 @ 12:10 am

    • Dear Katrina,
      Thanks for reading and replying.
      I am glad to help.
      Let us know which editon or recording of which cantatas you get, and what you think.

      Comment by welltemperedear — April 24, 2011 @ 6:37 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,268 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,374,528 hits
%d bloggers like this: