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Nikolaus Harnoncourt & Concentus Musicus Wien
Glorious Bach!


Glorious Bach!
An Advent Concert of Nusic by Bach

Cantatas BWV 61, BWV 147; Magnificat BWV 243

Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Arnold Schoenberg Chor (Chorus Master: Erwin Ortner) / Concentus Musicus Wien

Soprano: Christine Schäfer; Soprano: Anna Korondi; Alto: Bernarda Fink; Tenor: Ian Bostridge; Baritone: Christopher Maltman



DVD / TT: 82:00

Recorded at the Kloster Melk Benedictine Monastery.
See: Glorious Bach! (DVD) - conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Hip, hip, hurrah - some comments on performing Bach's vocal works

Kirk McElhearn
wrote (January 2, 2002):
Yesterday, I watched TV. I watched a DVD of Harnoncourt and his band performing a couple of cantatas and the Magnificat (see review posted separately) and, later, on the satellite, I watched Harnoncourt performing the Chrismas Oratorio, taped in 1982.

The first set of cantatas I bought, about 10 years ago, was the complete set by Leonhardt and Harnoncourt. At the time, it was the only complete set, and I did not know much about the cantatas, except that they contained the heart of JSB's music. I listened to them carefully, extensively, and accepted them for what they were. But, as time has gone by, and I have learned more about the works (and as I now have three complete sets), I find that I can no longer listen to these recordings as much. What I saw on TV yesterday confirmed why.

When L & H recorded their cantatas, their HIP approach was controversial (and still is) but they pressed on and went as HIP as they could be, especially through the use of boys to sing the soprano parts. But listening to this now, as compared to other performances, I am generally appalled by the poor quality of these boys' singing. No fault of their own, but they just don't have the emotion nor the energy. The Christmas Oratorio was a good example of that - the boys' voices were light and whispy, giving the music a bad sound.

While I certainly appreciate what L & H did, I can no longer countenance this approach. It is rigid and it fails. Certainly, Bach used boys, but the arguments have long been made about their voices changing later. Perhaps the L & H approach _is_ closer to how Bach and his contemporaries heard this music. After all, we hear world-class singers, he only got the best in his town.

Another thing that really looks archaic is the way the musicians and Harnoncourt himself dressed at the time. He in his "priest" jacket, all the singers in church garb, lots of beards... Well, it was the best of times and the worst of times.

I guess the progress the made is undeniable - after all, the DVD I watched showed clearly that all the musicians were playing original instruments, so that much has been gained. But seeing Harnoncourt with women singers (as he has been doing for some time) makes me realize that an era has come and gone.

Charles Francis wrote (January 2, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I've complained about Harnoncourt's boys for years and occasionally people have been upset with me for speaking my mind. I've no objection to boy singers as such, quite the contrary in fact since I've gone out of my way to hear the best boy choirs in the world (various English cathedral choirs). No, the problem is these particular boys, compounded by Harnoncourt's direction. To my ears his boys do not sound like choirs of angels (which I believe Bach intended), but rather like the boys from the 'Lord of the Flies'. Their lack of beauty and innocence may be a social artefact, perhaps reflecting Germanic notions of 'masculinity', but more likely it is indicative of the decline of a once great Germanic choral tradition. In fact, I've only found one German-speaking boy's choir that can compare to the top English cathedral choirs, a recently re-established Catholic choir where the boys are taught music in Kindergarten with the intention of producing singers for the church.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (January 2, 2002):
[To Charles Francis] For me it is more the soloists than the choir that are problematic. The choir can be ok, but the soloists have such an important role that when they are not good the entire atmosphere suffers.

Paul Farseth wrote (January 2, 2002):
If it is true that Bach risked his cantorship by occasionally smuggling his wife into church to sing solo parts, then it may be foolish to assume that he was delighted to have mainly boys to sing the high vocal parts. It's nice to hear that Harnoncourt is now performing Bach with women singers.

(The gynephobia of the "authentic performance" fanatics is sometimes laughable. An example in Minnesota a year ago involved separate sets of performances of Handel's "Messiah" involving the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in which the alto part which Handel wrote for a recently abused, maligned, and divorced opera singer was (in the modern performances) assigned to male countertenors in the interest of "authenticity". --the "He was despised" aria was originally sung, I believe, by the opera singer, though I would be hard pressed to document this piece of musical history that I read in an Internet posting a while back.)

Merxnickle wrote (January 3, 2002):
< Charles Francis wrote: In fact, I've only found one German-speaking boy's choir that can compare to the top English cathedral choirs, a recently re-established Catholic choir where the boys are taught music in Kindergarten with the intention of producing singers for the church. >
I´m much interested to hear a good German boy's choir. Would you like to name it?

Review Glorious Bach

Kirk McElhearn wrote (January 2, 2002):

Glorious Bach DVD [82 min.]

Cantata BWV 61
Cantata BWV 147
Magnificat in D Major BWV 243

Christine Schäfer, soprano
Anna Korondi, soprano
Bernarda Fink, alto
Ian Bostridge, tenor
Christopher Maltman, baritone

Concentus Musicus Vienna, Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Arnold Scheunberg Choir, Erwin Ortner

Rec: 2000, Kloster Melk Benedictine Monastery, Austria.
TDK DV-ADCNH [82 min.]

This DVD presents a concert recorded in the Kloster Melk Benedictine Monastery in Austria of two of Bach¹s 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 Bach’s 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 Bach¹s 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 chorists, 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 chorists. 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, ahere, 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 BWV 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.

Charles Francis wrote (January 2, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I've attended a couple of early musical festivals in the Kloster Melk, including Hilliard Ensemble, Cantus Cöln and Koopman, but somehow missed Harnoncourt. Its a very beautiful church with gold-plating all over the place - well worth a visit.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (January 2, 2002):
[To Charles Francis] It is attractive, but the film does not show it very much. There are a few long shots showing the ceiling, and some close-ups of the statues, but that's about all.

Harnoncourt, DVD

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 17, 2002):
Can anyone tell me if there are any Harnoncourt DVDs? I would greatly appreciate it. I haven't seen anything on the web.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (April 18, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Look at these :

coming soon :

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 18, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] You've got me all worked up about the "Glorious Bach" DVD with H and friends! I'm going to have to beg and if this doesn't work, I'll wait until pay day (alas, 1st of the month). thanks so very much! (saving your list for posterity!)

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 18, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] I could have ordered it today but a friend of mine told me that the H DVD is called 'region 2', that is, for European players only. Region 1 DVDs are for American equipment. Now isn't that a pain! Thanks for telling me though. I'll keep a lookout!

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 18, 2002):
< Francine Renee Hall wrote: Can anyone tell me if there are any Harnoncourt DVDs? I would greatly appreciate it. I haven't seen anything on the web. >
See: Review Glorious Bach

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 18, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] What a beautiful review! But I'm so, so sad because the powers that be put that 'Glorious Bach' DVD on 2nd encoding instead of 1st encoding so that it is unplayable in the US!!! I feel like an addict and hope I have the patience to wait until the manufacturers have the good sense to have the entire world access to this DVD. I saved your review, it was so nicely done.

hanks so much, as always,

Drew Pierce wrote (April 18, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Is the "Glorious Bach" DVD available in the US (NTS format, rather than PAL)? If so, where?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 18, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Thanks. Do pay attention to those pesky region codes... it is a shame.

Jim Morrison wrote (April 18, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Does anyone make multi-code DVD players. I know they have such things for VHS tapes. Pretty common tape player with my American compatriots in Germany.

Maybe the solution for the die-hard DVD addict in the USA is to buy a DVD from overseas that plays in the format they want, and a power transformer if necessary and power outlet adapter. (Yes, I guess I'm trying to spend Francine's money for her. ;-)

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 18, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison] Well, there are two issues. The first is the region code. Here in Europe, you can buy a "de-zoned" DVD player, which will play discs from any region. I don't know if you can do that in the US.

The other issue is that of format. Most of Europe uses PAL (except the French, in the eternal difference, who use SECAM). The US and Japan use NTSC. So, if your TV can't handle the output from the DVD player (in most cases this is PAL, even in France), then you won't be able to view it.

Brilliant Classics releases separate versions of their DVDs in PAL and NTSC. I know at least one other music DVD (I can't remember which) has two sides - one PAL and one NTSC. But there is no real standard for how they are released.

Bernard Nys wrote (April 18, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] For Francine & others interested in the "Glorious Bach",

From the Kloster Melk Benedictine Monastery GLORIOUS BACH ! Concentus Musicus Wien & Arnold Schönberg Choir, Christine Schäfer, Anna Korondi, Bernarda Fink, Ian Bostridge, Christopher Maltman
Cantata Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV 61 (with a tremendous opening chorus)
Cantata Herz und Mund BWV 147 (all the musicians are so joyful !)
Magnificat BWV 243 (with "Sicut locutus est" sung by the 5 soloists instead of the choir - astonishing)

I'm not a Harnoncourt fan, but I've never seen or heard him like this. Even my small children are fascinated by his enormous energy and enthusiasm. This DVD is perfect (the Cantatas better than Leusink and Gardiner on CD; the Magnificat comparable to the famous Von Karajan rendering on DVD, which is so moving because the Maestro was already very ill, obliged to sit behind a harpsichord but standing up for the final Gloria, unforgettable). Thanks to the subtitles in Engl, G, Sp, Fr & It., you see that Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (BWV 61) tells a story: Come, redeemer of the Gentiles, Come to your church, Jesus - Jesus knocking on your door (bass C. Maltman accompanied by pizzicato) - open your heart, when Jesus comes and conclusion Amen. This is one of the DVD I have to play every day : if you are in a bad mood, just play Herz und Mund (BWV 147), and feel good ! You want to hear what music they play in paradise ? Listen to the Magnificat's final "Gloria" !

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 18, 2002):
[To Bernard Nys] Oh, I'm sick with envy! You know that I found out that Harnoncourt's "Glorious Bach" DVD is only available as 2nd region decoding, i.e., Europe, the Middle East and Japan. The US can't play his DVD on American equipment! Do you think the coding will change in the future? Your description made my mouth water!

Stan Metzger wrote (April 18, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison] Both Sampo and Daewoo make DVD players that allow code free modifications and are PAL/NTSC compatible.

Avoid Sampo. I returned three defective machines, but the Daewoo 5700 works perfectly.

Got Ken Russell's Delius: Song of Summer (Region 2 only) and it plays perfectly.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 18, 2002):
[To Stan Metzger] Well, that figures too! I've never seen Ken Russell's 'Song of Summer' with Fenby as Delius' poorly treated protege, and I've always wanted to. Does the rest of the world the US as morons not worthy of region 1 decoding?

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 18, 2002):
Please excuse my awful display of avarice. I should be thankful for what
I do have. And thanks for all your advice about equipment though that's
kind of out of my league!

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 18, 2002):
Please forgive my absolutely shameless display of greed and avarice! Thanks for all your information on compatible equipment for DVDs as well as info on particular DVDs.

Olle Hedström wrote (April 18, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] I don't understand your problem. More and more DVD players here in Sweden are sold as "regionfree" It means that you can play DVDs from all regions of the world without difficulties. I possess two PHILIPS dvd players which were both easily decoded for use of region 1-6 DVDs. Practical, isn't it? Don't you have this option in your country?

Nikolaus Harnoncourt: Short Biography | Concentus Musicus Wien | Harnoncourt – Glorious Bach! (DVD) | Motets – Harnoncourt | BWV 232 - Harnoncourt | BWV 244 – Harnoncourt | BWV 245 - Harnoncourt-Gillesberger
Harnoncourt & Leonhardt – Recordings:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Harnoncourt & Leonhardt – General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Table of recordings by BWV Number

Conductors of Vocal Works: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | Singers & Instrumentalists


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