> Bach - Bach cantatas [KM]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Bach Cantatas
Cantata No. 179, "Siehe zu, dass deine Gottesfurcht," BWV 179
Cantata No. 199, "Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut," BWV 199
Cantata No. 113, "Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut," BWV 113
Magdalena Kozená, soprano
William Towers, alto
Mark Padmore, tenor
Stephan Loges, bass
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner
Rec: 2000, St. David's Cathedral, Dyfed, Wales.
BBC OPUS ARTE OA 0816D [127.00]


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In the year 2000, John Eliot Gardiner set out on his Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, with the goal of performing all of Bach’s sacred cantatas in churches around Europe and in New York. Over a 52-week period, his orchestra, choir and soloists achieved this unique goal, with a fervour that was almost religious. This DVD presents one concert, recorded in Wales, and a documentary of the entire tour.

First of all, one must laud John Eliot Gardiner for his persistence and belief in such a wild, crazy project. Not only was it logistically difficult - rather than taking the easy way out, and performing all the cantatas in one city, or even one country, he wanted to travel to different cities every week - but it was a gruelling experience for the musicians, who had to learn three or four cantatas a week, as well as travel to a new venue and perform them. If this DVD is any example, this tour bordered on the miraculous. The three cantatas performed here are excellent, with musicians, choir and soloists alike giving emotional and profound performances.

The high point of the recording is the cantata BWV 199, for solo soprano and orchestra. Magdalena Kozená is one of, and perhaps the finest soprano I have ever heard sing Bach’s sacred music. Her heart-rending performance of this cantata is unforgettable. Not only is her voice magnificent, but she puts incredible emotion into her singing, using her entire body to express her feelings. The moving aria Stumme Seufzer, stille Klagen, with obbligato oboe (played by the excellent Marcel Ponceele), is one of the most memorable arias I have ever heard. If only for this cantata, this DVD is worth buying.

The hour-long documentary on the Pilgrimage is excellent, and shows how Gardiner developed such a mad project, but also shows how committed the musicians were to this tour. As the tour goes on - the documentary shows the musicians in twelve cities along their route - one can see the players become more intense, more deeply committed to the project. While features are drawn in the final concert in New York - and Gardiner seems to have put on a few pounds - one can imagine the sadness of these musicians who perform their final concert together.

Unfortunately, Gardiner’s original plan to release CDs of all of these performances was axed by Deutsche Grammofon. They were all recorded, however, and, perhaps, one day they will be released. They constitute an extraordinary testament to some of the finest music ever written and a true belief in the power of that music. In any case, this DVD is as good as it gets. Hearing and seeing Magdalena Kozená is a great pleasure, and the rest of the music is extraordinary as well.

Kirk McElhearn


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