"Acting as though I were one of Bach's pupils, I imagined myself being given the following assignment in a composition lesson: 'Here is a libretto; set it to music using whatever you find in the works I wrote up until now (1731). What you do not find, compose yourself'". Ton Koopman
Performances of Bach's St. John Passion, BWV 245, with these forces or close to them have become an annual Eastertime tradition in London, and this recording is guaranteed an appreciative audience. Certain details relate specifically to this tradition: several chorales are sung unaccompanied, but an accompanied version is included at the end for those who reject the dramatization.
The appetite for evolving performance practices in Bach’s St Matthew Passion appears undiminished as we have gradually shifted, over the generations, from larger to smaller ensembles and also towards a greater dramatic understanding of the implications of Bach’s ambitious ‘stereophonic’ double choir and orchestra choreography.
Filmed in the architectural splendour of Graz's Gothic-Baroque cathedral, leading Bach authority Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducts the famed Tölz Boys Choir and his Vienna Concentus Musicus, playing on period instruments, in the most dramatic of all Passion settings. "In this performance we have attempted to realize Bach's wishes in the most authentic manner possible" (Nikolaus Harnoncourt). "A unique occasion" (Kurier).
Philippe Herreweghe uses the second of Bach's four versions of the St. John Passion, the one from 1725, which substitutes some of the arias and the opening chorus, along with lesser changes. The result is somewhat more dramatic than the standard version, which Herreweghe recorded previously. Those familiar with the conductor's work will find his usual warmth, making the most of the lyric moments, but they'll also find greater sensitivity to rhythmic and dramatic thrust and a generally livelier approach. The singers are uniformly fine. Padmore is an unusually effective Evangelist, projecting the drama without undue overacting. Many will want this for Andreas Scholl's countertenor solos, which are first-rate, but the magnificent "Es ist vollbracht" will disappoint those familiar with the greater depth of renditions by contraltos like Maureen Forrester and Janet Baker. Bright-voiced soprano Sibylla Rubens is another attraction, singing with fervor, and the orchestra and chorus of the Collegium Vocale Ghent are outstanding. This attractively packaged set goes to the head of the class. –Dan Davis
Johann Sebastian Bach's monumental St. Matthew Passion was first performed on Good Friday in 1727 at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. It is the largest single composition Bach ever wrote, both in terms of length and in terms of instrumental and vocal forces. It requires two choruses, two orchestras, four vocal soloists for the arias and vocal soloists for each of the various character parts. Philippe Herreweghe's 1999 recording of Bach's masterpiece features a stellar cast and was a perennial catalog bestseller.
This wonderful new recording of the St Matthew Passion is the first to adopt Bach's final revisions to the score as performed in 1742. Most casual listeners may not be able to identify the departure in scoring from the most commonly performed 1736 version: which amounts to the replacement of organ with harpsichord in the second orchestra, and an additional viola da gamba in a recitative and aria. However, where this recording really stands out is in the size of the vocal forces. A total of eight singers are employed, therefore providing just four voices for each of the two choirs. This arrangement clearly has potential disadvantages for those of us raised on the full chorus monumental direction from the likes of Richter and Klemperer…