50 years ago - how John Eliot Gardiner changed music, The Guardian
The Guardian by Tom Service, 5 March 2014

50 years ago to the day, a 20 year-old history, Arabic and medieval Spanish student at King's College, Cambridge, lit a rocket under the musical establishment, and he's spent the last half-century continuing to shock and awe, agitate and enlighten, entertain and energise audiences and performers all over the world - but mostly, and most importantly, in the UK ever since.

That was the concert that inaugurated the Monteverdi Choir, revealing Gardiner's searching scholarly insights and musical instincts, as well as revivifying a performance tradition of Monteverdi's notoriously problematic Vespers. But the performance also sounded a warning shot against what Gardiner perceived at the time as the dangerous complacency of contemporary English choral singing, an approach to music-making that prioritised sonic beauty and technical perfection over meaning, directness, and intensity. "The idea with was that you could sing any music in the same style, providing it was all nice and tuneful and euphonious and beautiful. As if that's all that music is about!"

In a sense, in the rest of John Eliot Gardiner's life in music, he has simply gone on being true to that essential idea that musical performances should be coruscating acts of musical communication - and the main crucible of his ideas has always been the Monteverdi Choir. It was with them - and the players of one of his ensembles, the English Baroque Soloists (for later repertoire, Gardiner convenes the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique) - that he created the single most ambitious performance project of the last - well, quite, possibly ever: the performance of all of Bach's sacred cantatas in a single year, whose recordings, I think, are the most vital and inspiring of all the versions of the cantatas you can find.

It's not just Bach or the Baroque, though: Gardiner and the Monteverdis have sung everything from Grainger to Beethoven, from Stravinsky to Lili Boulanger. And so, as Gardiner prepares his 50th anniversary performance of the Vespers with the Monteverdi Choir in Cambridge on Wednesday (which you can hear live on BBC Radio 3), here's my list of a top ten must-listens from their vast discography and videography.

">Bach: Mass in B Minor

">Mozart: Requiem

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis

Brahms: German Requiem

Monteverdi: Vespers

Lili Boulanger: Psalms 24 & 129, Du fond de l'âbime, etc

Percy Grainger: choral music

Purcell: Choral Music

Berlioz: Les Troyens

Bach: Cantatas

Read on The Guardian's website.