DVD Review

Glorious Bach


© Kirk McElhearn, November 2010



Bach: Cantata "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" ("Come, Redeemer of the Gentiles") BWV 61 - Cantata "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben" ("Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life") BWV 147 - Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243.

Christine Schäfer and Anna Korondi (soprano), Bernarda Fink (alto), Ian Bostridge (tenor), Christopher Maltman (baritone), Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Concentus Musicus Vienna conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

Arthaus Musik 101 531 • 82' •

Recorded: live 2000, Kloster Melk, (Benedictine Monastery), Austria.


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 not yet.

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.

Note by the editor
This DVD was already released by TDK in 2001 and is now re-released by Arthaus Musik . You may find the original review at MusicWeb.