Performed on modern instruments, this recording of
Bach’s greatest vocal work has its good and bad points. The musicians
are competent, the soloists excellent, but the choir, the real star
of this work, disappoints.
The weakest part of this performance is the boys’ choir,
which is clearly not cut out for music of this depth. Not only can one
hear the occasional voices singing out of tune, the video shows how
some of the singers seem to be merely mouthing the words, not at all
involved in the music. The recording, made live on 28 July 2000, for
the Bach 2000 television broadcast in Europe, is quite good, but the
sound is a bit muddled. The large choir - easily 80 singers or more
- overpowers the orchestra, drowning it out and hiding the subtle textures
in the largest movements.
Nevertheless, a group of solid soloists makes the non-choral
sections a delight. Ruth Holton is at top form, and countertenor Matthias
Rexroth is quite good. Their voices marry well in the Christe eleison
when they sing a duet. Rexroth shines in the Laudamus te, with a sparkling
solo violin performance accompanying him, and gives an excellent performance
of the Agnus dei.
Bass Klaus Mertens is excellent as always; he is one
of the finest Bach basses currently singing, and rarely disappoints.
Here, in his solos, he shows the unique command he has of this register.
Tenor Christoph Genz is a bit of a disappointment,
sounding tired and uninterested. He only has one solo - the Benedictus
- and one duet with Ruth Holton. He has a fine voice, but doesn’t sound
as if this was one of his best days.
All things considered, this is not an excellent recording.
Since the choir has such a central place in this work, a weak choir,
as is the case here, leaves the listener wanting more, much more.