J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 11/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It had been several years since I had listened to Bach's powerful B Minor Mass; I intentionally don't listen it very often because it is such an emotional experience. But when this DVD was released I knew I would have to watch it, for several reasons. First, it was a film of a May 2005 performance that took place in Bach's own church, the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. Second, it featured the hometown orchestra, the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, one of the world's finest, and its equally fine chorus. Third, it was being led by a conductor I much admire, Herbert Blomstedt, the American-born Swedish conductor who was for a number of years the conductor of the San Francisco Symphony and for the past five years or so the Kapellmeister of the Gewandhaus. As it happens, this was the final concert of his tenure there. And, finally, the soloists were equally fine. They are Ruth Ziesak, a German lyric soprano who is renowned for her work in oratorio and other sacred works; Anna Larsson, a rich-voiced Swedish contralto; Christoph Genz, a young German tenor whose work in the recently released DVD (from 1999) of Bach's Christmas Oratorio I liked. (He has matured considerably in the six years between these two DVDs and if anything is more lyrical and certainly has more control of his sweet-toned tenor voice.) And, finally, bass Dietrich Henschel, who seems to be everywhere these days; he was also in the Christmas Oratorio DVD as well as singing the Count in the recently released DVD of Strauss's 'Capriccio' from the Paris Opera (and with Renée Fleming).
There is no question that Blomstedt has this work in his bones. He had conducted it previously with the Gewandhaus, in his first year there, as well as elsewhere. He conducts without baton, often mouthing the words that the chorus sings, and rarely consulting the score before him. Although Blomstedt has the appearance of a bank manager, he clearly has the heart of a poet. Tempi are appropriate, phrases are molded naturally. It is also clear that he trusts his artists to give their own ideas, within reason, in the performance. The orchestra gives its all. I was particularly impressed by the concertmaster's solo at the beginning of 'Laudamus te,' the principal horn likewise in 'Quoniam tu solus sanctus,' all the solo winds (especially solo flute, oboes and oboes d'amore) in their various (and many) solos throughout. It is clear that the musicians, while playing modern instruments, have absorbed much from the authentic instruments movement; this is not one of those old-fashioned high-cholesterol German performances. It is light on its feet but powerful when it needs to be.
Each of the solo singers is excellent. Not only do they do well in their many solos (e.g., Henschel in 'Quoniam' and 'Et in spiritum sanctum,' Genz in 'Benedictus,' Larsson in 'Laudamus te' and especially the moving 'Agnus dei'; Ziesak has no solos per se) they also are marvelous in the several duets (soprano and contralto in 'Christe eleison' and 'Et in unum dominum'; soprano and tenor in 'Domine Deus'). But the glory of this set is the wonderful chorus, which has glorious sections to sing from beginning to finish. They are very well-tuned, have light and pleasing articulation, clear diction and energy to spare. In the darker movements such as the 'Qui tollis peccata mundi,' their beauty of tone and utter sincerity brings tears to one's eyes.
In addition to the performance, there is a bonus feature, an interview with Blomstedt in which he explains his understanding of the importance of the B Minor Mass in Bach's oeuvre. It is in German with excellent English subtitles.
TT: 117 mins (performance) + 21 mins (bonus); Sound: PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1; Subtitles: Latin, English, German, French; DVD 9
This is clearly a major recording, one that I recommend without reservation.
The B Minor Mass in the Thomaskirche with Herbert Blomstedt
Hubert S. Mickel | 01/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Die h-moll Messe. Das ist Bach!" (Bonus/DVD) In this statement Herbert Blomstedt sums up his belief that this work is Bach's best. It has the greatest stylistic diversity. It was penned by Bach from the early 1720's to 1749. Bach's feeling and beliefs of God are written into and are an integral part of the music itself. Hearing Herbert Blomstedt's rendition of the B minor Mass has convinced me that he is correct. Prior to this, I believed that Bach's greatest choral work was the St. Matthew Passion. The second semester of the course on Bach taught by Christoph Wolff at Harvard in the 1970's (before he became Director of the Bach-Archiv Leipzig) was focused only on the St. Matthew Passion. The St. Matthew Passion is clearly a work of astounding intellectual and musical accomplishment. Its importance is not decreased by the recognition of the greatness of the B minor Mass.
What are Herbert Blomstedt's credentials to make such an assessment of Bach's works. First and foremost, he is a superlative conductor. He is the only person to have been the conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle (1975 to 1985) and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (1998 to 2005). To my ear, these are the two best orchestras in the world. Blomstedt presents the music exactly as it is written and has conducted orchestras, possibly the only orchestras, that could perform the exact original score and make it sound new, fresh, without error, and beautiful. His sense of integrity extends to providing and protecting the integrity of the music he conducts. He does not try to impose his will on an orchestra. Instead, he rejoices in their excellence and celebrates their virtuosity. He cites Johann Sebastian Bach himself when he states that unless one gives one's very best, one is not worthy to play or sing this music. He has convinced the instrumentalists and singers of Leipzig of this fact and seems to get a total effort from each person.
I have heard Herbert Blomstedt conduct live only twice: once with the Dresden Staatskapelle in the United States and then on May 9, 2007 at the Gewandhaus zu Leipzig, he conducted an all Brahms concert with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. His interpretation of Brahms Third Symphony was the most beautiful of any I have heard.
A second credential for Blomstedt is that he is a Christian believer, and he resonates to the statement of beliefs that Bach has forged into his music. Hans Conrad Fischer has written in the preface to his book, Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life in Pictures and Documents, "Those who want to approach the phenomenon of Johann Sebastian Bach must start from the strong faith of Bach's soul, whether or not the reader shares this faith. ..... Three letters are written at the end of many of his music manuscripts: "SDG" - Soli Deo Gloria: for God's glory alone."
The Thomaskirche is a unique place. One might also again say, "Das ist Bach". Even the communists wished to honor Bach. There were four graves from 1750 in the graveyard of the Johanneskirche where Bach was buried. My understanding is that they dug up all four bodies and studied the bones. After deciding which one was Bach, they buried him under an iron slab behind the altar in the Thomaskirche. Bach was there when I first visited the Thomaskirche in 1973, and he is still there now. It is not just Bach's bones that are in the church; his spirit also seems to be everywhere within it. I have heard only one cantata in the Thomaskirche, and that in 1974 (No. 21, Ich hatte viel Bekummernis). It too was simply superlative.
The soloists of this work maintain the standard of excellence of the orchestra and choir. The voices are magnificent, whether in solo or in one of the several duets of the piece.
The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Herbert Blomstedt still has the characteristic earthy sound of their strings, but they play here with a perfection commonly associated with Dresden. This performance in 2005 was to be Herbert Blomstedt's last formally as principal conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. If it were in any way possible, I would like to hear him conduct one of Bach's Passions.
I have listened to this DVD more often than any other in my rather extensive collection. It is as close to perfection as any I have heard. If you like Bach, this DVD is a must. If you do not yet like Bach, this is an excellent place to start."
Gregory Sulik | Marquette, MI United States | 03/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"An excellent full version of the great b minor mass conducted by the legendary Bach expert, Herbert Blomstedt. All performed at The St. Thomas Church in Leipzig where Bach worked. This live performance is VERY moving, with performers who are focused on the ensemble and the music--not on themselves--a real treat! As an added bonus, there is an optional commentary by Blomstedt. If you don't know German there are subtitiles available in the main menu. The commentary is profound and well worth the time."
Verweile doch ...
Friederike Mu▀gnug | Berlin Germany | 03/14/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am one of the happy - relatively speaking - few who had the pleasure to hear the actual concert in Thomaskirche on may 8th 2005. DVD certainly is a way of conserving and storing great moments and I am truly glad, that this very special "Augenblick" is allowed to stay on and be shared with others. As far as any DVD can transfer an idea of the atmosphere in the Thomas-Kirche it is a document of a great event.
I am not quite sure how such a piece Bach's Mass will wear on a DVD-replay at home. But if you do consider to get any DVD-recording of Bach's Mass in B-Minor, you will be very happy with this one. The orchestra and the choir are brilliant. The soloists (Ruth Ziesak, Anna Larsson, Christoph Genz and Dietrich Henschel) are superb.
Enjoy great music wonderfully performed."