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Bach;Johann Sebastian St. John

 NR (Not Rated)   DVD

Price: CDN$ 97.32
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Glorious performance -- DREADFUL VIDEO DIRECTION March 15 2006
By Todd R. Schultz - Published on Amazon.com
Five stars for the musical performance / ONE STAR FOR VIDEO DIRECTION

As expected, this is an absolutely glorious performance. Karl Richter conducts equisitely; the chorus has a gorgeous tone and sings cleanly and brilliantly. The soloists are all strong, especially Peter Schreier's glorious Evangelist. Helen Donath -- one of the greatest, most expressive and intelligent sopranos of our time -- absolutely shines in her two arias with gorgeous tone and brilliant color. And Julia Hamari, whom I did not know before, sings with a lovely richness and beauty.

The performance absolutely deserves five stars for the musical performance. But what is this with the arrogant, outrageous video direction?!

During every aria, the video director shows us close-up detail shots of a medieval painting of the Passion. Why are we forbidden to see the soloists, orchestra and conductor in such an outstanding and powerful performance? Instead, we're shown -- over and over -- slow-motion details of a static painting.

Lost is our opportunity to watch these brilliant, skilled and intelligent performers delivering their craft. It was so engaging to watch Schreier, Schramm and Nimsgern in the declamatory sections, and my heart fell with disappointment every time an aria began and the camera left the concert and returned to the painting.

In the entire piece, we see Helen Donath and Julia Hamari singing for about two phrases each. That's all!

The Matthew Passion DVD is coming out, too. I'll buy it for the musical performance, and I'll be happy to listen to the piece. But it's so depressing to know that the visual experience will be so limited.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Glorious music superbly performed in a now unfashionable style Feb. 4 2009
By David E. Gregson - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
When I was in college in the `60s, Karl Richter's Bach performances were considered the ultimate in historically informed performance practice. They stood apart from the gigantic romantic approaches as exemplified by Furtwaengler, Klemperer and Herbert von Karajan. In America, the Richter LPs on the ARKIV label were sold in the better record shops - and as I recall, they were always imported from Germany and were a bit costly (especially for young people on a college budget). I adored Richter's B Minor Mass and St. Matthew and St. John Passions. When mono went out and stereo came in, I had to replace some of the stunning, linen-bound albums. I still have them, the discs only moderately crackly sounding despite their age.

What a joy to discover that back in those dark days of audio-only music at home, somebody actually filmed Richter in action! For me it's a nostalgic journey back into a past I never "saw," and with scratch-less, wonderfully high-fidelity audio beyond anything I could have imagined in college!

Of course, historically informed performance practice has left the once "purist" Richter far behind, and many younger people actually sneer at the work of a chorus and choir Richter himself created for the glory of Bach - and/or God, depending on one's understanding. I am old enough to see all musical paradigm shifts as a matter of fashion as much as anything else. Perhaps John Eliot Gardiner and Nikolaus Harnoncourt will be considered "impure" and sadly wrong-headed someday.

The major disappointment of this DVD release is the work of the film's director, Arne Arnbom, who never gives us a single establishing shot to let us know where we are or to give us any context for the endless close-ups of presumably medieval passion paintings. What church is this? Whose paintings are they? Are they painted on a wall or in a book? Many, many times we do not even know exactly who is singing because the camera simply does not show us! Only at some spot well into the film do we get a glimpse of Richter switching from baton to sitting at the harpsichord. It is truly maddening! You almost have to see it to believe it. Richter has wonderfully expressive hands -- but we see them only very briefly in over two hours of music. At the end, only the faces of a few of the soloists remain distinct in one's mind. I was amused, however, that placards spelling out the texts of the chorales (in German) flash on screen when appropriate - so we can sing along at home!

The accompanying booklet is of no help in getting much more information about the venue or anything else. I think the church interior is the Monastery Church Diessen, Ammersee. I also am assuming the film is film and not videotape. I do not recall high quality videotape being in use in the late`60s or in 1971 (when the Richter Mass and Passions were imaged), but I may be wrong. Certainly the first VHS home recorder/players only began appearing in 1972, with the ultimately doomed Betamax format arriving about 1975. I'd love to more technical details about these Richter DVDs.

The audio balances, by the way, are way off from what one might hear in reality -- but it's difficult to complain about otherwise excellent stereo sound. Today's super-high standards, of course, are not to be expected.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too bad the director had some new ideas March 13 2007
By Gerhard Rotter - Published on Amazon.com
This is a very satisfying performance if one closes ones eyes. Unfortunately, the director had the glorious idea to show images of some iconic depictions of the story being told. To make it more exciting zooming in and out of the same picture and moving back and forth on it with (almost) no end, attempts to bring the viewer closer to the story being told. The few in between videos of the performers showed a much more passionate view, however, as soon you locked to it the cartoon show starts again. I am amazed that DG tolerated that and Karl Richter released the DVD that essentially ruined his and his participant's very good performance, at least on DVD.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Richter is the best, but the direction is horrible! Jan. 26 2012
By Rafaela - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Richter is arguably the best interpreter of Bach, but the direction of this DVD is horrible! sloppy, tiresome, and we lost a major when you buy a DVD, the interpreters in performance! I do not recommend this version!
5 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A major disappointment April 16 2006
By Michael Nathanson - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
It is with heavy heart that I feel compelled to assign this DVD only two stars for the performance which is just adequate and camera work which is distructive and annoying.

As a comparison I use the by now unavailable and excellent performance on VCR by the New Bach Gollegium Musicum under Max Pommer filmed at St. Thomas church in Leipzig (Films for the Humanities, Inc). The Richter orchestra and choir by far exceed the forces available and utilised at Bach's times. Why does Richter feel the need to double the number of flutes and oboes in the arias or utilise 4 double bases when 2 suffice is beyond me. Not only does it not add to the exquisite nature of the solo arias and the depth of their evocative message. It in fact detracts.

The overall playing of the orchestra is correct but lumbering. The choir, aside from the equally detracting big sound volume it produces sings extremely well. The soloists except for Laubenthal are superb, notably Hamari and Schrier who also peforms in the above mentioned Leipzig performance to which I must return at once. The Johannes Passion is totally different from the Matthaeus Passion conceptually and structurally.

The latter, from the starting chorus which includes an interpolated choral sung by soprano boys conveys compassion, mercy, inner peace in fact resignation to the innevitable outcome yet to be played out. The arias and the choruses are for the most parts soothing. The Johannes Passion is confrontational, aggressive and hostile towards 'the Jews'.

If in the Matthaeus the drama is an undercurrent, the Johannes' drama is explicit, unsettling and in your face. The catharsis culminates in the shattering and heart breaking aria "Es ist Vollbracht" sung beautifully by Ms. Hamari. Richter's interpretation to my mind totally misses the unfolding drama.

After watching this DVD I was left cold, indifferent and perplexed by Richter's lack of understanding especially after having watched his Matthaeus and the B minor mass DVDs. In contrast, the Pommer video is rivetting, the drama so palpable as to generating an almost personal hostility towards the performers!...

Now to the video quality. The film editors have opted for some obscure reason to focus their camera for a great length of time on frescos depicting the passion story rather than on the soloists in their aria parts and on the choir segments. As a result the impact of the drama is further diminished.

When one watches the recently offered Christmas oratorios DVDs interpreted by Harnoncourt and Gardiner, it becomes painfully clear that Richter's overall Bach interpretation and this one in particular is wanting.

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