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.