Matthew Richard Martinez
, October 2012
This jam-packed disc is a celebration of the music of J.S. Bach, but also of Leipzig’s impressive orchestra and (at the time) outgoing conductor Herbert Blomstedt.
Judging by this performance, the maestro’s groundwork left a lasting impression on both the Gewandhaus Orchestra and Chorus. Their performance is unique in its balance of early-music “leanness” with beauty of sound. Blomstedt’s attention to detail creates moments of stunning clarity and breathtaking intensity as in the transition from “Confiteor unum baptisma” to “Et exspecto resurrectionem.” The joy on the old maestro’s face is contagious. Attention to text is painstaking, as in the chorus’ word stress in “Crucifixus.” Blomstedt finds a way to blend two schools of thought in approaching this music. Phrases are lyrically shaped, always stemming from Bach’s setting and natural stress of the text. His noble and intelligible reading of the “Sanctus” is an inspired example of how well this can work.
Blomstedt’s soloists are quite satisfactory on the whole. Contralto Anna Larsson is the standout of the group, providing an effortless, rich sound with plenty of line. Her “Agnus Dei” is exquisite. Baritone Dietrich Henschel has an inviting sound…Soprano Ruth Ziesak has a clarion and accurate voice that she’s able to maneuver adroitly and with sensitivity.
I would expect that the Bach would be ample enough to persuade prospective buyers, but the capacity of Blu-ray discs allows EuroArts to include an entire additional concert. Recorded in 1999, this “Refuge for the Rising” benefit concert commemorated the tenth anniversary of the “Monday Demonstration” which took place shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is a wonderful and generous supplement, the highlight of which is Blomstedt leading the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The performance is swift and lean, and occasionally fierce. The orchestra…play[s] with an impressive freshness and unity.
One of the most appealing aspects of this release is its visual beauty. The St. Thomas and St. Nicholas churches are both stunning in their own unique way, and the high-definition picture on this blu-ray is a joy. The St. Thomas Church is incredibly warm and saturated with the red braiding in the ceiling coming across extremely well. Sound quality for the Mass is quite good and very detailed. Balances are excellent throughout.
Given the sheer volume of music…this is indeed a generous release. It is a celebration of Herbert Blomstedt’s art, but more a celebration of the musical history and current vibrancy of Leipzig. The Mass is worth the price of admission here and the additional selections, as well as a bonus interview with the maestro, are icing on the cake. This disc has something for everyone and is extremely satisfying in every way. © 2012 ConcertoNet.com Read complete review