Bach - Cantatas (2007) [DVD5 NTSC] (DVD5 PAL Sir John Eliot Gardiner)
John Eliot Gardiner
Monteverdi Choir / English Baroque Soloists
Soprano: Magdalena Kožená; Counter-tenor: William Towers; Tenor: Mark Padmore; Bass: Stephan Loges
BBC Opus Arte
DVD Time: ~2:07:00
This DVD is worth every cent of its price if you were to only purchase it for the three cantatas that are performed here in their entirety. The "gimmick" of Sir John Eliot Gardiner's pilgrimage tour was to perform every one of Bach's surviving cantatas (some 200 of the 500-plus composed) on the Sunday or church fesitval for which it was composed, and in a sacred setting (often a church where Bach himself had performed it). The three cantatas performed here (Nos. 179, 199, and 113) were written for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity, a Sunday that seems given to reflection on the typically Lutheran theme of Christian sin and inadequacy (Gardiner wisely concludes the program with No. 113, the cheeriest of the three). Performed at St. David's in Wales, the cathedral's beautifully rugged interior provides a visually appealing and accoustically perfect setting for Bach's music. Watching the soloists made me aware of just how dramatic a form the cantata is in Bach's hands. Czech soprano Magdalena Kozena's face is especially expressive. She is totally connected to her text and music; there is no coy raising of the eyebrows or pointless tilting of the head that flaw the performances of many opera divas and singers of art song. This is a music with a purpose, and its message is delivered faithfully, forcibly, and clearly. Although every soloist in this concert is wonderful, I was especially fascinated by William Towers. I have never heard a male alto before and enjoyed the rich and grounded quality of Towers's voice (something I find lacking in countertenors). If, after watching this performance, you agree with me that it is awe-inspiring, you can buy the audio CD as well (Universal Music Co., Archiv Production: 463 591-2).
The Pilgrimage documentary was difficult to loacate on the DVD. But DO make the effort to find it. Watching it, you'll gain an appreciation of the magnitude of the project (mission, really) that the Montiverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists committed themselves to--to perform all the Cantatas (67 concerts in total) throughout Europe and concluding with a Christmas concert in New York City during the millennial year. Even the artists interviewed who don't identify themselves as Christians describe the concert tour as a profound religious and spiritual experience. If you like this documentary, you'll also enjoy Image Entertainment's DVD "In Rehearsal with John Eliot Gardiner," a taping of Gardiner's rehearsal session for Cantata No. 63, also from the 2000 Pilgrimage Year.
The DVD comes with an attractive 30-page booklet (English/French/German) of essays and librettos. Another nice touch is the on-screen captions; you never have to look away to figure out what is being said.