Saturday, 11 December 2010

Bach in Notre-Dame de Paris

Johann Sebastian Bach
Mass in B minor, BWV232
DVD directed by Olivier Simonnet
EMI, release date February 2007
Running time: 153 mins

Ruth Ziesak - soprano
Joyce DiDonato - mezzo-soprano
Daniel Taylor - countertenor
Paul Agnew - tenor
Dietrich Henschel - bass
Ensemble Orchestral de Paris
Maîtrise Notre Dame de Paris
conducted by John Nelson

“In a short interview before this concert in Notre-Dame Cathedral, John Nelson calls this performance 'a culmination of my experience with Bach' and it is one which is characterised by the conductor's highly considered and distilled understanding of the score. This is evident in his decisive direction, which is a model of clarity. The tempi are beautifully judged, the monumental choruses are chiselled lovingly and the image-laden and reflective movements – reaching a tortured sadness and composed dignity in a superbly judged Crucifixus – all conspire towards a magisterial and logical conclusion in the Dona nobis pacem, where heart and head seem happily entwined.

What prevents this from being as memorable are both the capability of the forces, beyond a certain level, and the flawed filming – random and quick-fire shots from all manner of angles. The results are profoundly restless. There are far too many occasions where dubbing is ineptly handled, not least in the Laudamus te, where the admirable Joyce DiDonato is suddenly out of kilter with proceedings with an edit (26'39”) using a patch where the tempo is far too fast. Comedy is the order of the day at the end of the Cum Sanctu Spiritu, where Nelson is filmed bringing off the ensemble at least two beats after the music has ended.

The Ensemble Orchestral de Paris perform in a fairly prosaic fashion by today's 'informed' standards and Nelson has a habit of accentuating appoggiaturas into submission; only the vibrant personality of the bassoons (notable in both bass arias) and the slick trumpeting ring out with complete confidence. The choir are committed and well drilled and Ruth Ziesak is the pick of the soloists, apart from an Et in unum which is full of gratuitous accents – maybe in an attempt to encourage Daniel Taylor to take his head out of his copy. This DVD is not quite what it promises, though John Nelson's motivation and vision certainly bring a real sense of occasion.”

- Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

Watch this DVD on YouTube

Grammy Award-winning conductor John Nelson comments on J. S. Bach's "Mass in B Minor".
Video footage from Soli Deo Gloria's 2009 collaboration with the National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica, for the first known performance of the B Minor Mass in the history of Central America:

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