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Customer reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

on 28 June 2013
A good film of a monster tour with Gardiner and his incredibly talented crew of musicians and singers.
Some nice interviews with the band and their leader, revealing interesting things about how the tour itself and the discipline of playing Bach's music at the precise time of year It Was Intended For was having an affect on their individual psyches.
Topped off with a really superb concert featuring some staggeringly good singing, i have no hesitation in giving this the full 5 stars.
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on 8 December 2015
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on 12 October 2002
On the strength of this wonderfully entertaining and enormously elucidating DVD,I fervently hope that there are many more instalments forthcoming from the extraordinary "Bach Cantata Pilgrimage" that Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists made in the year 2000 to honour the 250th anniversary of the great man's death.The scope and scale of their "mission" was in retrospect quite,quite astounding,and by the time of their final New Year's Eve concert in New York they had given no less than ninety concerts and traversed 15 countries !
The concert that is preserved for a grateful posterity here is the fortieth in the series and took place in the solidly imposing St.David's Cathedral in Dyfed.Three cantatas which Bach composed for the 11th Sunday after Trinity are performed superbly within the nicely intimate sacred space of this edifice,and although none of the three are amongst the very best known of the 200 extant Cantatas that have come down to us;they nevertheless contain music of surpassing beauty.I especially was smitten by BWV 199 (Mein Herze schwimmt im blut/My heart is bathed in blood) and in particular the marvellously expressive voice (and face) of the soprano Magdalena Kozena.You can tell that she is completely "inside the music" and every emotional nuance of this deeply penitential cantata is transmitted faultlessly via her art.If you are able to sample the DVD before buying,then lend your lugs to the moving aria,"Stumme seufzer,stille klagen" (Silent sighs,quite lamenting) that also features a beautiful obbligato oboe part.
This DVD would still be excellent value even if all we had was just the three cantata performances alone,but the BBC has been amazingly generous and treated us to an hour long "behind the scenes" documentary of the Pilgrimage.You couldn't wish for a more engaging and erudite "tour-guide" than Sir John,and thanks to him,I learnt more about Bach's life,music and limitless legacy in that golden hour,than in entire years previously.Excellent too,were candid and telling contributions from members of the Orchestra,Soloists and Choir:all of whom in their disparate ways confessed to the incredible spiritual impact of spending an entire year with such a miraculous roster of masterpieces.
As a Scot I was particularly interested in the leg of the tour that took them all the way up to Orkney (the extraordinary ecclesiastical edifice of St.Magnus) and then all the way back down to the truly magical island of Iona.Sir John describes both venues as spiritual highpoints for the whole company,even if the former odyssey to Kirkwall was nearly tragi-comically derailed by the uncompromising "Sabbath shutdown" - airports are quite definitely NOT exempt from this edict,despite the most worthy pleas of a travel-weary ensemble with critical deadlines to meet.Yet despite all the logistical frustrations of actually getting to these furthest-flung outposts of Christianity,it became clear in the end that Bach's music simply "belongs" there.Why this should be is almost impossible to explain away,and in the end why should we try to analyse it ? Suffice to say that both Cathedral and Abbey are powerhouses of sacred energy and for a brief and blissful period of time gloriously collided with a Saxon source of equal kilowatt output.
The pilgrims eventually and quite fittingly ended up in the New World for that emotional last concert in St.Bartholomew's (a beautiful Byzantine-style building),New York City (An opening shot of the "old" skyline serves as a poignant reminder of events that are still painfully vivid in our memories).As the last notes of the last triumphant chorale echo around the marvellous mosaics of this great urban church,you can almost see the tremendous weight lifting from Sir John's shoulders,and eyes raised to the figure of Christ (in exactly the same posture !) he gives a heartfelt,silent "thank you".
It's certain that we,as Bach lovers owe Sir John Eliot Gardiner a tremendous debt of gratitude for seeing this astonishingly ambitious enterprise to a glorious conclusion,and if his record company deserve a good slap around the neck for aborting the CD archiving of the Pilgrimage,then perhaps the visual (please God,let ALL these concerts be taped ?) record will help assuage our indignant wrath and provide a source of grace through music for years to come.
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on 10 August 2003
On the strength of this, I hope that all the Gardiner cantatas are released in CD form. These are wonderful performances, with the added bonus of a documentary of the Pilgrimage, culminating in the marvellous final chorus of the New Year cantata BWV190 in New York of the sadly-altered skyline. As one previous reviewer said, at the end of the road for the Pilgrimage, the burden rises visibly from JEG.
I can't add to what the previous reviewers said, except to say that I disagree with the reviewer who didn't like Magdalena Kozena's performance of BWV199. This is not opera, and therefore it seems to me that the singer is not necessarily supposed to agonise appropriately over the words. Was proper emotion to be found in the words as sung? To me, it was.
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on 1 March 2003
This is a video diary of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, in itself an interesting document of an important event that should attract many lovers of Bach's music. However, I would like to focus here on Magdalena Kozena's performance of BWV 199 which was the main reason for my giving this document only 2 stars. I couldn't disagree more with the previous review about the quality of this performance. Kozena has a beautiful voice but she shows little understanding of the texts she sings. I am not quite sure if she distorts the text consciously, following her 'own' interpretation or simply doesn't understand the language. The latter is in evidence too often to dismiss it as occasional lapses of memory (she follows a printed source anyway) - she misinterprets single words and whole sentences singing them as the mood takes her and it seems to take her to her favorite whispers and sighs more often than it should. Listen and look how she sings "O hated night of sin! You, you alone have caused me such distress" in an almost erotic way. "Du, du ALLEIN" is whispered as if she has mistaken the cantata for a Liebeslied. The recitative - full of imagery invoking the emotional torment of the sinner, is sung in a lovely voice fit for a romantic song. In the middle section of the first aria things really begin to get out of control. What is the wild outburst of joy at the words "My heart is now a well of tears, my eyes are boiling springs. Ah God, who will ever content Thee?"? In "Tief gebueckt...." she turns the repetition into an expression of bliss even if the following brief recitative gives the lie to her interpretation; in the chorale she sends us a smile after the words " I, Thy afflicted child, cast all my sins ... which terrify me" (singing the word 'schrecken' -terrify- as if it meant delight). At this point - and earlier, when after having cried a plea for mercy, Kozena tries to 'bribe' the God with a coquettish smirk (27'12''), I couldn't help bursting into laughter.
Not everything is bad - there are many touching moments (e.g. Gardiner singing along "Habe doch Geduld...") - but there isn't much logic in this performance. Kozena sings everything in a uniform, almost jolly mood implied also by her facial grimaces that hint at bliss rather than torment. No wonder the last aria, intended as a joyous culmination doesn't sound particularly joyous, for the same mood ruled over the first 20 or so minutes of the singing. It is only the tempo that has changed here, there is no contrast between the pain of the penitence and the joy of forgiveness. I don't know how this turns out on the CD, but on the DVD the visual layer of the performance simply distorts the cantata's meaning. Visually it is dramatic in its own way, but it has more to do with Kozena's smirks, rolling her eyes and making cute faces than with the drama behind the text. It is not fair to comment on visual aspects of a singer's performance, some grimaces are simply impossible to avoid (take Bartoli), they are by-products of the physical act of singing as well as conscious elements of the 'facial acting', but Kozena's facial acting seems studied - you are constantly aware of how 'rehearsed' many of her grimaces are and how much effort went into this performance. And yet the effect is often inappropriate or downright comical.
I know that this rather scrupulous analysis of Kozena's performance may be out of proportion but I simply can't understand how a faulty interpretation can be applauded as exemplary singing of Bach which is about humble adherence to text. By no means does this humble adherence to text have to mean blandness or lack of character - listen to BWV 199 sung by such great Bach singers as Elly Ameling or Arleen Auger to see what a right combination of individuality and humility can create.
One doesn't have to be religious to be able to sing a religious text convincingly, especially one as simple as this, where the words speak for themselves. It is of course impossible to expect today's singers (or, for that matter, most of us who listen to Bach's music) to identify with the texts or with Bach's religiosity but in a project like this, with decidedly sacred overtones (as emphasized by the Prince of Wales in his speech recorded on this DVD) and the performances placed in a special liturgical context, coherent interpretations are not too much to ask for. One can argue with some of Gardiner's choices but generally his interpretations of Bach's vocal music are straightforward as attested by the rest of the material on this DVD or on the CDs. If you watched the "In Rehearsal with JEG" DVD, you could see how meticulous Gardiner is in his approach to Bach's music and texts and how often he asks native speakers of German for linguistic advice (even if his own German sounds fine). Kozena needs guidance very badly (even in such simple matters as German pronunciation) and it is a mystery to me why she was left here to her own devices. Look how much more subordinate and controlled she is in her appearances in BWV 179 & 113 where she has to cooperate with other singers (excellent Mark Padmore and Stephan Loges).
I wouldn't have bothered writing this review if a performer of a lesser stature (and on a less important occasion) was involved here but Kozena is being promoted heavily as a star of ancient music and a Bach specialist. If you want to SEE what great Bach singing is about, 5 minutes with Sara Mingardo in the "In rehearsal with JEG" (track 7) will tell you more about it than hours with Magdalena Kozena. But if all you care about is 'beautiful singing' then this is the right singer for you.
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