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Spinning Gold from Bach's Legacy,
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This review is from: J.S. Bach: Die Thomaner (A Year In The Life) (St. Thomas Boys Choir Leipzig) (Accentus: ACC20212) [DVD]  [NTSC]  (DVD)
There's no such thing as alchemy but if there were Leipzig would be a good place to start your research. As if to coincide with the London arrival of one of the city's musical ambassadors, a film is released on DVD about another. Die Thomaner follows a year in the life of the St. Thomas Boys Choir, the bedrock of all musical life in the city. J.S. Bach dedicated the latter part of his life to Leipzig and, as this film testifies, his legacy lives on.
Filmmakers Paul Smaczny and Günter Atteln may have chosen a familiar year-long fly-on-the-wall format, but their subject is far from hackneyed. This year, the choir and school celebrate their 800th anniversary. It's a major landmark on the road to a millenium of education and music-making. But what is so appealing about the film is that is never lapses into self-satisfied propaganda, because it is the boys themselves who tell the story.
A new recruit arrives just as one of the choir's established figures leaves. Tears flow from the eyes of the latter, while the former can't wait to get going. Two choristers disappear to play on their Nintendo Wii, another practises his football punditry, dinner is served. 'We're just normal kids,' one treble insists. Focussing not on the choir's heritage, but on its current crop of musicians, we learn what has provided the inimitable chemistry for Bach's choir. Chiefly, the boys know how to socialise.
As soon as they arrive, the trebles are put in a study with one of the older boys. Passing on traditions and a respect for the institution itself may seem like a fusty return to the old days of Public School, yet the customs here revolve around something incorruptible. Providing the backbone to their repertoire and work, Bach is the greatest challenge for musicians young and old. Unjaded, undimmed by the passage of time, the choristers throw themselves into his counterpoint with abandon. Like Bach himself, it is how they weave the extraordinary from the everyday that is the goal of their work. The results speak for themselves.
But there are disappointments along the way. The exciting challenge of the B minor Mass is undercut when several boys aren't picked for the tour of South America. Others are noticeably shocked when upbraided for slack musicianship. In the Thomanerchor, the mundane and the memorable exist side by side. Smaczny and Atteln have captured both in touchingly modest terms. And, as if to remind us of the latter, recorded Bach: St Matthew Passion Bwv 244 (Christina Landshamer/ Stefan Kahle/ Wolfram Lattke/ Martin Lattke/ St. Thomas Boys Choir Leipzig/ Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/ St. Thomas Cantor Georg Christoph Biller) (Accentus: ACC20256) [DVD]  [NTSC], showing musical alchemy at work.