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Karl Richter & Münchener Bach-Chor & Bach-Orchester

Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works

Richter’s Video

Karl Richter’s video

wrote (November 2, 2003):
I have recently seen the Unitel video of the St. John Passion conducted by Karl Richter. I would like to know if there is someone in this group interested in discussing Richter's video recordings.

Emily L. Ferguson wrote (November 2, 2003):
[To Teseo] Wow. Where did you find that to see?

Olle Hedström wrote (November 2, 2003):
[To Teseo] I have never heard of such a videorecording. VHS ? DVD ? Where can I find it ?

Uri Golomb wrote (November 2, 2003):
Regarding Richter's videos -- you can find the details on Unfortunately, most (if not all) of the items listed there are not commercially available. I received a copy of several of them -- recorded from broadcasts on German television. The ones I'm most familiar with are the documentary (or, rather, extended obituary) "The Legacy of Karl Richter", and the B minor Mass.

The Mass was filmed at the Klosterkirche Diessen in Ammersee in September 1969. It is beautifully filmed, yet also somewhat frustrating. It is not a live recording - there is no audience; and Arne Arnbom's direction makes it difficult to determine whether it was recorded in sequence. All performers are apparently present throughout: the soloists are seen sitting at the front during choruses, trumpeters and timpanist are sometimes visible in movements in which they do not participate. (I point this out because, in studio recordings, arias and choruses are often recorded separately, and in many cases choruses with larger orchestral accompaniment are recorded separately from those requiring a smaller orchestra).

On the other hand, it is well-nigh impossible to determine whether movements were performed in sequence: in almost all movement-to-movement transitions, the performers are invisible, and the camera focuses instead on the church's frescos or statues (quite beautiful in themselves). When the work begins, the camera shows the church from the outside, and moves in through the gate and gradually into the church as the movement proceeds; it is only about halfway through the First Kyrie that it finally focuses on the performers. The reverse happens in the final Dona nobis pacem: the camera gradually moves outwards. At the beginning of each of the other sections, we are shown Bach's own title-pages. It is therefore difficult to tell whether movements were performed in sequence, or whether breaks were introduced between them. There are some exceptions to this - we see very clearly Richter's conducting of the transition from Crucifixus to Resurrexit, for example - but on the whole, it is impossible to rule out that the work was recorded out of sequence, or at least with longer gaps between movements. It was probably not a single-take performance.

The performance itself is, in my humble opinion, not Richter's finest, though it has many beautiful moments. Of Richter's B minor Masses, my favourite remains his 1968 live recording in Japan; and my favourite Richter Bach recordings are of other works (Christmas Oratorio, Johannes-Passion, and quite a few cantatas; I also like many portions of his 1958 Matthaus-Passion, though not as much as his Johannes). I have not yet seen his videos of the Passions from beginning to end, just a few sections; I might report on them once I've seen watched them properly.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (November 2, 2003):
[To Teseo] I would, especially since I have never even heard of or seen them.

Robert Sherman wrote (November 2, 2003):
[To Uri Golomb] There should be a particularly unpleasant hell for video directors who turn their cameras on anything other than the performers who are actually performing at that instant.

Teseo wrote (November 4, 2003):
BWV 245 - Karl Richter's Unitel video

Bach: Johannespassion BWV 245
Helen Donath, soprano (arias)
Julia Hamari, mezzosoprano (arias)
Peter Schreier, tenor (Evangelist)
Horst R. Laubenthal, tenor (arias)
Ernst Gerold Schramm, bass (Jesus)
Siegmund Nimsgern, bass (Petrus & Pilatus)
Keith Engen, bass (arias)

Conductor: Karl Richter
Orchestra: Münchner Bachorchester
Choir: Münchner Bachchor
Directed by: Arne Arnbom

35mm, stereo / 130'

Just some personal impressions on this old performance. The video is not a commercial one but a recording I made from Classica television channel a few years ago. I know it is in the Unitel catalogue but it is currently unavailable. I did not find the date of the performance (does anyone knows ?) however I would say we are in the sixties. No public is shown attending the concert.

For half of the time the video dwells on a Passion fresco which I have been unable to identify (again, does anyone knows ?). Colors are quite good and well balanced. Each shot shows that scene of the Passion which is the subject of the song at a given moment. As the same scene (scrolled and zoomed in and out) lasts on the screen for a long time and almost for the entire duration of the arias, the overall result is tedious and disappointing. On the contrary in most of the choruses and recitatives the camera shoots the musicians, the soloists or the conductor but the shots are always the same and not the best at all. For example the instrumental sections of the orchestra are only partially showed, with few instruments visible each time. The bass section is hidden behind the cembalo for most of the video. No shots are taken on the organ player or on the cembalo keyboard while Richter plays the continuo nor there is any shot of the entire ensemble, even the choir is showed in sections only. The text of the chorales is displayed full screen on a white background instead as subtitles, thus hiding the performers (no text is provided for arias and most choruses). During recitatives the singers are simply shown in fixed close-up views. A poor direction, indeed.

The video shows Karl Richter while he conducts the choruses and some chorales. His gesture is at the same time essential and eloquent, precise and clear. Conducting the band standing in front of the ensemble and playing the cembalo in most recitatives requires Richter to rise and sit down and to take up and put down the baton repeatedly during the performance, however the camera doesn’t insists on these movements. The “cembalo” is not a historical instrument, instead it's the kind of harpsichord that many conductors of the past used to play in modern concert halls. In fact it has a powerful metallic, rattling and unpleasant sound, at least for my ears. I have seen a very similar instrument in the hands of Herbert von Karajan while conducting BWV 1067 from the keyboard.

The Münchner Bachorchester is quite large here, although not the largest I have seen performing the St. John Passion. Flutes and oboes are doubled as in Brahms symphonies and even in the aria “Ich volge dir gleichfalls” the camera shows four flutes playing in unison (!). The bass section includes 6 cellos and 4 double basses. The choir as shown in the video would be well sized not only for BWV 245 but also for Verdi's Requiem: it is really large, too large compared with the orchestra, I have had the impression of a lack of balance with the instruments. Moreover the mass of the voices makes the polifony less clear in comparison with HIP performances with smaller choruses.

This Richter’s interpretation of SJP is similar to the audio recording released by Deutsche Grammophon and closely follows the 1863 Rust edition as well. It is very expressive, there is a lot of vibrato in the strings, a full and beautiful sound, with oboes and bassoons playing particularly well, slow (however not flabby) tempi. The choir is powerful and the band of soloist is fine. However I have found the overall performance less moving compared with the DG audio which is far more satisfying from the point of view of the drama. I think the reason could be the presence of the cameras which seem to restrain the malesoloists (Schreier in particular) who appear very stiff indeed. I have been impressed by Schreier’s face: it is totally inexpressive throughout the Evangelist’s part, something as a judge reading a sentence in the court (I have seen other 'evangelists' far more involved in this part). The sound quality of the video recording is quite different from the DG audio edition: instruments and voices are clearer and trebles sound better but the dynamics is more compressed.

I very much love Karl Richter’s recordings, however I must say that this film is really boring, adds nothing but a slightly better audio quality to the DG recording and would be of very little interest even for Richter’s ethusiasts. I am not surprised it has not been reissued in DVD yet, even if I cannot exclude it will be in the near future.

Karl Richter: Short Biography | Münchener Bach-Chor
Part 1 | Part 2 | General Discussions | Richter’ Video
Vocal Works:
BWV 232 – Richter | BWV 244 - Richter | BWV 245 - Richter | BWV 248 - Richter
Instrumental Works:
Famous Bach Organ Works from Karl Richter | Karl Richter Performs Bach’s Partitas & Goldbergs
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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