Notes and Editorial Reviews
Mass in b
Georg Christoph Biller (cond); Ruth Holton (sop); Matthias Rexroth (ct); Christoph Genz (ten); Klaus Mertens (bs); Leipzig Gewandhaus O & Thomaner Ch
EUROARTS 2050356 (DVD: 113:00,
It was a romantic impulse, I’ll admit, but I couldn’t watch and listen to what a reasonable person might safely call the most glorious music ever devised by the mind of man emanating from a sea of cherubic faces without
entertaining the fleeting notion that there may be hope for our species after all. Then I realized that if we had had video capabilities 70 years ago, we might have a visual record of a similar performance at the same location—not a reassuring thought, but one that I sincerely hope that we can put aside. Bach’s choir, in Bach’s church, passing on to us Bach’s supreme legacy. We are privileged to experience sights and sounds that were never available to Bach himself.
Bach’s choir, two and a half centuries after the fact, has grown in number—if we choose to believe Joshua Rifkin—by several orders of magnitude (though I did spot some choristers sharing scores!), and—if we are to believe Bach’s own assessment—in discipline and musicianship. But not in diversity. The choir still does not admit girls, though the only female singer in sight, Ruth Holton, certainly holds her own with her opposite-gender colleagues. A handful of women grace the reduced Gewandhaus Orchestra, surely a mark of progress. Ethnic diversity is even less evident, but that may be as much a function of geography as of anything else. I did notice a variety of haircuts being worn by the choristers, which is probably an encouraging sign. You wouldn’t have seen that in Leipzig in 1937.
I was struck by the fact that all the tenors and basses of the choir—not attired, like the trebles and altos, in sailor suits—are student aged. Thus the choir, and director Biller, must deal with a constant challenge of personnel turnover—the youngsters at puberty and the older boys at maturity. Yet they endure and thrive. Looks have been known to deceive, but a viewer could easily infer from the video that Biller is more of an encourager than a taskmaster. The chorus responded splendidly throughout, and the soloists no less so. I was occasionally disconcerted by Biller’s détaché choral lines (not evident in the solos), but, overall, the performance was uplifting and inspiring.
The visual presentation is conventional, in the best sense. The camera scrolls smoothly from conductor to choir to orchestral groups to vocal soloists to featured instrumental players, mixing long shots and close-ups, with views of the church regularly interspersed—about what one’s eye would do at the concert, were the sightlines and zooming capabilities available to members of the audience. It should offer a satisfying experience to listeners who do not insist on period instruments and/or pared-down ensembles.
An image to cherish: a passing glimpse of a totally engrossed choirboy watching one of the instrumental soloists at work lends hope that there may still be a future for classical music too.
FANFARE: George Chien
Picture Format: NTSC · 16:9 anamorphic
Sound Formats: PCM Stereo · Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: Latin, English, German, French
Booklet Notes: English, German, French
Running Time: 114 mins
Works on This Recording
Mass in B minor, BWV 232 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Klaus Mertens (Bass),
Matthias Rexroth (Countertenor),
Ruth Holton (Soprano),
Christoph Genz (Tenor)
Georg Christoph Biller
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra,
Leipzig Thomaner Choir
Written: 1747-49; Leipzig, Germany
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