This DVD presents a concert recorded in the Kloster
Melk Benedictine Monastery in Austria of two of Bachs finest cantatas
and his Magnificat. All three of these feature choral movements, and
the Arnold Schoenberg choir participates greatly, providing a beautiful
sound and an excellent performance.
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, over the years, has changed his
opinions on how Bachs cantatas should be performed. Originally, when
recording the complete set of sacred cantatas with Gustav Leonhardt,
he used no female singers (as was the case in Bachs time), and small
forces. But now, he has progressed a bit and become less fundamentalist.
In this recording, one can see just how much he has changed. Not only
are there female soloists and choristers, but the forces are much more
than what he originally used. The choir seems to be about 40 to 50 singers,
and there are some 30 members of the orchestra. This said, the Magnificat
is a work that calls for relatively large forces, but it can also be
performed with fewer musicians and choristers. Nevertheless, Harnoncourt
still uses musicians with original instruments, and the sound is certainly
closer to a historically-informed performance (HIP) than its contrary.
The performances of these three works are excellent.
Not only are the choir and orchestra of the quality one expects from
a conductor such as Harnoncourt, but the soloists are all top-notch
as well. The young tenor Ian Bostridge stands out particularly in these
three works, and is especially brilliant in the cantata BWV 61. Bostridge
has shown, in his short career, that he is one of the finest Bach evangelists,
and here, as a soloist in these three works, shows his range and level
of emotion. However, the poor boy looks extremely tense when singing;
he lacks poise and posture, and has what adepts of the Alexander Technique
call very bad use. But this does not seem to affect his voice; at least
Soprano Christine Schäfer is also excellent, especially
in cantata 61. The other women sing fine, but it is truly Schäfer
who stands out in these works, though her trio with Anna Korondi and
Bernarda Fink, near the end of the Magnificat, is magnificent. Baritone
Christopher Maltman is also very good, and his voice has just the right
tone for singing Bach.
This is a wonderful DVD, with three fine sacred works
by Bach, featuring excellent musicians, choir and soloists. A must-have
disc for collectors of Bach DVDs. One can only hope that there will
be more such recordings by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.