I’ve written about Bach’s cantatas several times here (such as this overview article), and there are a handful of conductors whose recordings are essential. One is John Eliot Gardiner, and another is Masaaki Suzuki. Both of these conductors have recorded all the sacred cantatas, and both of their cycles are excellent in different ways. Gardiner’s recordings were made during a live, world-wide tour; Suzuki’s were made in concert halls. While the former are a bit ragged at times, the latter can sound over-polished. (My favorite Bach cantata conductor is Philippe Herreweghe, but he didn’t record all he cantatas, alas.)
Suzuki’s set was long available only on single CDs (though several smaller boxes of the first few dozen CDs were sold for a limited time), but a complete box set will finally be released in April. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) It is currently listed on Amazon UK, but will probably show up on Amazon.com in the coming weeks. At less than £200 for 55 CDs, this is a bargain, though substantially more expensive than the Gardiner set (Amazon.com, Amazon UK).
It’s worth noting the following:
This boxed set includes 55 Hybrid SACDs in individual slip cases. The recordings on discs 1-27, originally released on CD, have been up sampled and surround sound has been added, making this the only available complete set of the cantatas in SACD format.
I’m not a fan of upsampling or faux surround sound (where the music is played over speakers in a hall, then recorded with multiple channels). Personally, I don’t care about the SACD layer, and the discs will include a stereo layer as well.
If you’re a fan of this music, and you don’t own the individual CDs, this is a must-have set. The clarity and detail in these recordings is exceptional.