Die Thomaner: A Year in the life of the St. Thomas Boys Choir Leipzig

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COMPOSERS: A film by Paul Smaczny & Günter Atteln
LABELS: Accentus
ALBUM TITLE: Die Thomaner: A Year in the life of the St. Thomas Boys Choir Leipzig
PERFORMER: The St. Thomas Boys Choir Leipzig
CATALOGUE NO: ACC20212

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A mother’s hand gently strokes that of a child. St Thomas’s Leipzig is holding auditions for its choir.  Is she trying to reassure her son? Or herself? Inside, the current successor to JS Bach, Georg Christoph Biller, is putting the boys through their paces. One hits a high ‘A’ with the aplomb of an Olympic high-jumper clearing the bar; another is pushed to a ‘B’, then, sounding uncannily like a banshee with attitude, a stratospheric top ‘C’. Grins erupt. It was probably ever thus. The St Thomas Boys Choir Leipzig celebrates its 800th anniversary this year, but Die Thomaner is less interested in history than in presenting a fly-on-the-wall documentary, a ‘Four Seasons’ in the life of a remarkable community that enjoys football, PlayStations, heavy metal, yet, week in, week out, grapples with the likes of the B minor Mass, the St Matthew Passion and the cantata cycles. Of course history is never far away. In every other nook and cranny there seems to be a bust or portrait of Bach staring down like some forbidding Teutonic Buddha – though with a treacly Downton-Abbey-esque film score stitched in near the start and finish, perhaps there’s good reason for the frown. And times change. A chorister, disappointed in not being included on the trip to Latin America, which dominates the ‘Autumn’ sequence, muses that from what he’s heard, he’s not missing much. Cue shots of on-tour revelry that contradict him.

Christmas brings carolling in the snow, Easter prompts reflections on faith and its absence, while throughout, the faultline between the tradition-hallowed Thomaner ethos and the 21st century is gently probed. Gently, because more questions are raised than are answered; but then, anchoring everything is the glorious certainty that is the music of
JS Bach himself.

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Paul Riley