The main focus of attention during the city of Leipzig's 10-day Bach festival was the Gewandhausorchestra's live performance of the sublime "Mass in B Minor, BWV 232." Recorded in the Church of Saint Thomas, where Bach ser... more »ved as musical director, the program features conductor Georg Christoph Biller, the cantor of St. Thomas Church, and soloists Ruth Holton, Matthias Rexroth, Christoph Genz and Klaus Mertens.« less
"Recorded in 2000 at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig where the composer worked as Cantor for 25 years, this performance of Bach's Mass in B minor is a commemorative concert marking the 250th anniversary of his death. The conductor Georg Christoph Biller, holds the same post as Bach did more than 250 years ago. Since other reviewers did not point out any good elements for this performance I will try to focus on them. Although I agree that the intonation of the choir is not always perfect, this is not the only thing you should take into consideration for buying this DVD. The choir is an all-male chorus (and they are not professionals). This is perfectly acceptable for that era and they really try to do their best (which is very good indeed). The size of the choir though is much bigger than that anticipated in Bach's times. I do not mind watch them sharing scores. Some parts are tricky for them but I share their joy (and strain) in parts like "cum sancto spirito", "Sanctus" and "Osanna in excelsis". All soloists are good (especially Kaus Mertens, the bass). Instead of an alto this performance uses a countertenor (Matthias Rexroth), who is very good and adds to the authenticity. The Gewandhausorchester Leipzig is excellent throughout. Their forces are diminished as required by this baroque masterpiece, they forget their Mendelssohnian roots and never sound romantic, even if their practices are not totally authentic (their instruments of course are not - yes you miss the pleasure of valveless trumpets). Picture and sound are very good. Detail is crisp despite some minor edge enhancement. Instrument groups and choir are well defined especially in DTS (plain stereo is not bad at all). Camera work really serves the performance (bravo to director Robert Coles). The treatment is "orchestral" and the panning effects spectacular. This DVD exploits well the interior of the church. You see all that you want to see (at least I do), like Bach's organ, grave and the church he served as cantor. Orchestra and choir are placed up in the gallery. This adds to the visual delight and to a slight echo effect (the sound remains clear though). The audience is very quiet. The inclusion of anthems and verses between the various movements of the Mass is a plus (some are sung by the present cantor himself). I watched this DVD again and again. This is a large scale performance of the mass, but authenticists will not be disappointed. This is a commemorative concert. Bearing (at least) this in mind this DVD is a good investment. You want to honour Bach, don't you?"
A Visit to the Thomaskirche
Matt | Des Moines, IA United States | 02/22/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The first concert I attended in the Thomaskirche was to hear the Thomanerchor, Gewandhaus Orchestra and soloists perform the St. John Passion in 1996. Someone here has described the boys of the Thomanerchor as not being professionals. If they are not, it must only be as the result of semantics, since the boys leave home at the age of 9 to live, eat, sleep, travel and sing together until leaving school at 18 or 19 and, during the academic year, giving weekly performances of Bach cantatas and other works. It's not too far a cry from how things were in Bach's day, except that the boys are a very select group and live in better and honored status. They live an exhausting schedule of performances. Aside from the unique experience of hearing Bach performed (very well) in his church by his choir, it was impressive to be there for a mainly local event. The German audience packed the place, of course, and were absolutely silent. At the conclusion, they sat in stillness for several minutes and then slowly departed in quiet.My last trip took me to the performance of the B-minor Mass, a duplicate of this one, on the evening before this DVD was made (and 3 days after hearing the St. Matthew Passion in the church). Again, it was very impressive. Bach's grave was "dressed up". The interior of the church had been renovated from the neglected, smokey darkness of DDR days to the whiteness you see in this production. (One can still see the old inscription on the ground level announcing that here, on such and such a date, Dr. Martin Luther preached the Reformation in Leipzig.) In that performance, it was the Thomaskantor himself whose intonation was less than perfect - a noticeable distraction. As others have noted, you do get a good idea of how the church looks. You do not, however, see "the Bach organ". That instrument disappeared long, long ago. What you see behind the choir is the romantic-era "Sauer Orgel". There is a new Bach organ (seen on the right in long views in the DVD), done in white and complete with his monogram, in the nave balcony. The Mass was sung "in liturgical style" with the inclusion of the hymns and chants prior to the non-varying portions of Bach's work. It almost seemed that it was being offerred less as a concert than as a commemoration for Bach, since it was performed, to the day, 250 years after he died only a few yards away in the old Thomasschule, which no longer exists.It may be that the performance on this DVD is not the most technically perfect version in existence. But, for my money, it is (and was) the most genuine performance I'm ever likely to see and hear. After all, it was sung in Bach's church, where Bach is buried, by Bach's choir, a most remarkable group."
Cum Sancto Spiritu
Ivan Rojas | 02/04/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is probably the best performance on DVD that we'll get of the B-Minor Mass. The concert is given in St. Thomas's Church in Leipzig before an audience. The orchestra is small, and the choir consists of boys of various ages (that is, the church choir). The alto solos are sung by a countertenor; the soprano by a woman. The recording and the musical performance are good as any I have on CD (I have five). I've never before heard of a boy's choir singing the bass and tenor lines as well as the soprano and alto. I like the German practice of having boys in the alto since one can hear the contrast between the silvery flute-like sopranos and the woody 'oboe-y' altos. I prefer that to the countertenors of the English choirs. The conducting and singing is not as incisive as I'm accustomed to hearing from the various luminaries of the authenticity movement, but that's not a criticism, only a description. The church is rather plain so the camera mostly lingers on the performers."
A very special perfomance
Ivan Rojas | Santiago, Region Metropolitana Chile | 07/07/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I must say I'm very pleased with this DVD.
I sing in a choir here and we are working on this Mass too, so I know how difficult are some of the movements, even for a professional group.
Sometimes I miss the nerve and the power of an adult group, but I really like the relaxed style to sing of these boys.
The solos are OK, specially the bass with a sweet voice and very warm for a bass.This man is an example to any beginner.
I didn't like the countertenor in all numbers, but I must recognize he has a very special voice even for a countertenor.The orchestra is very good, in general very soft, but strong when they have to do it.The quality of the images and sound is good.Finnally, the context where this perfomance was recorded is a plus: the church, the grave of The Master, the participation of the Kantor, make this recording a very special one, that can be not so perfect in musical terms but deserves to be included in a good collection anyway."
Bach for the Ages
CanyonRick | Grand Canyon, USA | 01/13/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Under any circumstances, there is a fine performance of the Mass in B Minor on this DVD. But, it is the visual aspect, coupled with the surround sound, which catapult this version into the upper echelon of Bach performances.
Remarkably, one never tires of the camerawork and direction. It wears so well. The visual counterpoint among choir, solists, conductor, orchestra and Thomaskirche is deftly handled. Nothing is under- or over-emphasized. Cuts from conductor to choir to orchestra, for example, seem perfectly natural within the context of the music. And, indeed, it is the concluding visual during the final "pacem", with the camera coming to rest on Bach's flower-bedecked grave in the floor of the Thomaskirche, which ultimately magnifies all that has gone before. The perfect exclamation point to the Mass in B Minor.
This is by no means a "Das alte Werk" rendition. The choir appears to be double the size of "alte Werk" recordings. The orchestra plays modern instruments. An adult female soprano sings in the 3 duets. But as one "alte Werk" recording concedes, small scale, original instrument performances succeed more often in recordings than in live concert.
The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra's reputation as a major international ensemble has never been more deserved. The virtuosity of their musicians is particularly showcased during various vocal solos and duets. What lovely accompaniment they provide. During the great choruses, the trumpets are most definitely "there", lifting the band into a marvelous full bodied sound.
Klaus Mertens is "the" voice among the solists. Both his solos are impeccably sung. His "Quonium" followed by the seamless segue into the spectacular chorus "Cum Sancto Spiritu" to end the "Gloria" is a highlight among highlights.
I'd have loved to have heard more from Ruth Holten who sings only in the 3 duets. It makes the performance seem to have a slightly top heavy leaning towards counter-tenor Matthias Rexroth (3 solos, 2 duets). He certainly sings well enough, but compared to his other solos I come away feeling that he wasn't completely comfortable with the "Laudemus te". Perhaps I'd have liked to have heard Ms. Holton have a shot at this. Christoph Genz, a Thomanerchor alumnus--and the only one in the church wearing a tuxedo--sings the "Benedictus" with uncommon clarity and feeling.
Thomascantor Georg Christoph Biller appears to have a riveting personality which is constantly exuded as he conducts. The look he gets on his face as he prepares to launch orchestra and choir into the big choruses (especially the "Sanctus") could perhaps be described as devilish. Few, if any, of the conductors with far more well-known names, appear to so openly enjoy their work as much as Biller. It's easy to understand why his choir responds with such enthusiastiasm.
And, if there's a star to be singled out in this performance, it's the Thomanerchor--though certainly, by extension, Biller, himself. Clearly, this choir takes its music seriously. They want to sing. One can sense a certain restlessness during the solos. But, the Thomaners also have the discipline to sing the "Qui tollis peccata mundi" (Gloria) and the "Et incarnatus est"/"Crucifixus" (Symbolum) with deep introspection. Nonetheless, on the big choruses, they produce a triumphant sound which when coupled with the Thomaskirche acoustics is spectacularly unique.
There are also details of the production beyond the music that attest to the live performance, but which are ultimately endearing. Though, I don't think he's heard (I still have my ears open, however), one Thomaner is caught mid-coughing spell. A few of the younger kids appear wide-eyed at times. One of the older singers beats out the time in a vaguely Paul Anka-ish manner. The soloists are seen frantically looking for something that has dropped between their chairs during the "Gratias". The violinist sitting by the horn player has her finger in her ear (understandably) for the entire "Quonium". But, none of this matters. If anything, they only add.
At the conclusion, with the reverent view of Bach's grave (it's only shown at the very beginning and very end), there is a silence that is usually reserved for the end of Ring cycles. But, when the gratitude commences, it is not with operatic bravos. It is solely applause, long and sustained. And at that moment, we get to share the unique relationship between Leipzig, the Thomaskirche, the cantor, the choir, the orchestra--and Johann Sebastian Bach.
And for that reason, this is a Bach performance like no other."