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Bach - Mass in B Minor
Bach - Mass in B Minor
Actors: Horst Laubenthal, Gundula Janowitz, Hermann Prey, Munich Opera Bach Orchestra, Hertha Töpper
Director: Karl Richter
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2006     2hr 9min

Acclaimed interpreter of Bach' works, Karl Richter directed this performance at the monastery church at Diessen am Ammersee, near Munich, Germany.


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Movie Details

Actors: Horst Laubenthal, Gundula Janowitz, Hermann Prey, Munich Opera Bach Orchestra, Hertha Töpper
Director: Karl Richter
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: DTS, Classical
Studio: Deutsche Grammophon
Format: DVD - Color - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 03/14/2006
Original Release Date: 01/01/2006
Theatrical Release Date: 00/00/2006
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 2hr 9min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
Edition: Classical
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: Latin, English, German, Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese

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Movie Reviews

Great soloists in a fine, idiosyncratic performance
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 03/29/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Bach's majestically beautiful, deeply moving Mass in B Minor began life during the early months of 1733 as a 2 movement five-part Missa containing only a Kyrie and Gloria; often called "a Lutheran Mass" because Luther had reduced the Mass Ordinary to just those 2 sections for the Protestant service. The Missa was intended to enhance his authority with the Leipzig town council with whom he had been engaged in a ten-year long cold war regarding his conditions of service and his method of conducting his duties (not least of which was the onerous responsibility for teaching Latin, a task Bach despised and relegated to others). These 2 movements lasted nearly an hour in performance. Thus, they were far too long for performance in Protestant Leipzig but they were perfect for a festival service performance at the Catholic court in Dresden. There is no evidence they were performed there, however. Bach, ever the practical composer, later extracted 3 movements from the Gloria for a Latin cantata BWV 191, probably first performed Christmas Day 1745. Still later, and for no specific purpose in mind, Bach conceived the idea of expanding his 2 movement Missa into a full Mass. He added a six-part Sanctus that he had written for the Christmas Day service in Leipzig in 1724 for the third section. He expanded the Credo turning it into the much longer Nicene Creed and created a vast second section. Lastly, he combined the Osanna, Benedictus, Agnus Dei and Dona nobis pacem to create a fourth section. By creating the Mass via this long-term accretion, many abrupt changes in choral and instrumental writing characterize the piece. Resultant textures can sound somewhat odd. The bass varies from section-to-section; Bach sometimes indicates the double bass, other times the organ and cello. Choral textures vary from four to five to six then eight-part writing. In the Benedictus it is unclear as to what instrument should play the solos. Ultimately, the music is not new but an expertly chosen combination of reused sacred and secular cantatas and instrumental concertos.

More importantly, perhaps, the resultant "Catholic" portions of the B Minor Mass make it unsuitable for a Protestant service. And the Mass is liturgically unacceptable to the Church of Rome. The unavoidable conclusion is that Bach never intended this Mass to be performed at all. He wrote it through some inner compulsion because he COULD write it, perhaps as some vast compendium of knowledge he meant to bequeath to the world. A great summation of his life-long involvement in Church music. A "specimen book" or teaching tool meant to be studied free from all practical issues as a pure example of musical thought, a contemplative masterpiece. In this, Bach's motives are reminiscent of those that drove Mozart to create his final 3 symphonies over six weeks during the Summer of 1788; symphonies also created for no known practical consideration. The pressure on genius is to create and to do so for it's own sake!

Karl Richter provides a lovely interpretation of the Mass. Using modern instruments but some of the nascent "authentic performance practices", he also incorporates the choral tradition of the great oratorio choirs in upper Germany in his disposition of vocal forces. His disposition of instrumental forces are likewise idiosyncratic. What Richter creates is a unique and hybrid Bach performance: neither traditional nor "period performance" but highly musical, deeply devotional, immensely entertaining and often thrilling. His Munchener Bach-Chor and Orchester are fine performers. They sound quite good, though they will not supplant, for example, John Eliot Gardiner's splendid recording of the B Minor Mass on Arkiv more than 20 years ago. Rather, this performance will occupy a niche. Bach's music is so great that many interpretations can coexist. In that light, this performance recorded 12-28 September 1969 in the Klosterkirche in Diessen am Ammersee can easily be recommended.

Richter's soloists are splendid, including soprano Gundula Janowitz, contralto Hertha Topper, tenor Horst Laubenthal and bass Herman Prey. This DVD is worthwhile for their performance alone. The singing is old-school in many ways, but beautiful. We are not used to such emotional Bach these days. Perhaps, a more emotive style will eventually merge with the somewhat colder and analytical period performance style, creating Bach much closer to the real devotional Baroque sound. I've always believed that what Bach heard in his day was more emotional than what today's period performers have been presenting, a depth of feeling operatic in nature. Perhaps that is why Bach never felt compelled to compose opera: his vocal scores were already as dramatically and emotionally charged as the finest operas of his day! Religious belief had an even greater immediacy and force in those long-ago days of ever-present death. This hypothetical performance hybrid is similar to Richter's style. His performance of the B Minor Mass is idiosyncratic in it's sound, in his choice of choral voices and in the nature of his interpretation. Nonetheless, it is musical and entertaining. I will return to listen to it often.

This DVD has a picture format of NTSC color shot full-screen 4:3 with a region code of 0 worldwide. The picture appears digitally remastered and is quite clear. Sound is recorded in PCM stereo and DTS 5.1 Digital Surround Sound. The sound is slightly thinner than modern recordings but still nicely present and immediate. DTS 5.1 Surround provides good spatial localization so that voices and instruments are easily visualized in space, imperative in a work of such polyphonic complexity. Menus are in English. Subtitles are in Latin (!), English, German, French, Spanish and Chinese. Total time of the disc is 129 minutes. There are no extras.

This is a splendid disc, enjoyable (and educational) as a window into an older world of Bach interpretation. It is not only musical and entertaining but ultimately deeply moving. Bach's B Minor Mass is a profound and devotional masterpiece and this disc emphasizes those aspects of the Mass. Most highly recommended.

Mike Birman"
Old tried and true
Michael Nathanson | san jose ca | 04/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I have given this DVD a 5 star only because the soloists are superb by any criteria and the chorus parts are overwhelming.
30 to 40 years ago Richter's interpretation of Bach's music was considered the last word and indeed his earlier soloists of the 1961 Mass recording topped this ensemble. In hindsight with the availability of modern/original instruments interpretations, it is clear that these much maligned "cool & analytical" peformances are more in line with the austere Lutheran world view.
I have heard the B Mass performed at the St. Thomas church in Leipzig and was deeply moved by what I saw and heard.
The entire ensemble, players, soloists and the Boys' choir fit in the organ gallery. The sound volume was just right for the size of the church and small was beautiful. The Richter performances are Hollywood Bowl size. Nevertheless they should be treasured for their interprative powers and historical importance. The camera work is good and the sound quality more than adequate."