- Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio), in six parts, BWV 248 (BC D7)
- St. Matthew Passion (Matthäuspassion), BWV 244 (BC D3b)
- St. John Passion (Johannespassion), BWV 245 (BC D2)
- Mass in B minor, for 5 voices, 6-part chorus, violin, orchestra & continuo, BWV 232 (BC E1)
This monster box set -- nine CDs -- is aimed at buyers in the process of doing what used to be called building a classical library. It contains four large Bach sacred works generally deemed critical to a classical collection aspiring to completeness: the "St. John" and "St. Matthew Passions," the "Christmas Oratorio," and the "Mass in B minor." The performances, recorded on period instruments by John Eliot Gardiner and his English Baroque Soloists with the Monteverdi Choir in the late '80s, are reliable classics, the kind of thing that a clerk at a CD store might tell you that you couldn't go wrong with. They take advantage of the clean sound and the clear separation between ensemble sections that come from performing Bach's music on the instruments for which he wrote it, but they're not radical experiments in re-creating 300-year-old music -- by this time, when most Bach enthusiasts think about his big choral pieces, what they tend to hear in their heads is something like what's heard on these recordings. There are more vivid, warmer, more passionate recordings of each of these pieces out there, but everything included here is consistent, clear, and convincing, with top-notch soloists. The bottom line: this is a lot of good Bach, for a very reasonable price. You might also, however, like to try out various approaches to these pieces to see what they might bring, rather than getting "Bachsed in." Two annoyances are the lack of texts (you can find them on the Internet) and the tendency of the booklet to fall apart in your hands. The late-'80s sound from Archiv is warm, without a trace of the harshness sometimes heard early in the CD era.