It has haunted René Jacobs since childhood: first as a boy soprano in Ghent, then as a countertenor, he has constantly frequented the supreme masterpiece that is the 'St Matthew Passion'. Jacobs uses the layout of the Good Friday Vesper service from Bach's time, with choirs front and back, rather than side-by-side. He also gives us extra soloists to complete the bi-choral effect. For Bach, the two halves were 28 metres apart. At that distance, coordination difficulties begin to appear between the speed of light, and the speed of sound, and we cannot determine how Bach dealt with this problem. However the wonders of SACD multichannel surround sound can at last give an impression of what Bach intended for St Thomas’ Church in Leipzig.
By his twenties, Antonius "Ton" Koopman was already carving a musical niche for himself in which he would rise to become one of the world's most prominent performers in the early music movement. Koopman was born in the Dutch town of Zwolle in 1944. After what he describes as a "classical education," he went to Amsterdam to study organ (with Simon C. Jansen), harpsichord (with Gustav Leonhardt), and musicology. Koopman's musical interests from the outset centered upon the re-creation of older musics on their original instruments in a thoroughly researched historical performing style. He founded his first Baroque orchestra in 1966, followed by an exuberant career (40 years and counting) of mingled performance, conducting, and scholarship.
Johann Sebastian Bach's profound faith led him to construct a veritable cathedral in which the listener is overwhelmed with feeling. The Saint Matthew Passion is one of the greatest monuments of polychoral composition. The two ensembles respond to and complement one another, adding further emotional weight to the work. It must not be forgotten that throughout Bach's life, while he was writing compositions that corresponded to his professional obligations and his wish to glorify musical instruments, he had been carrying this Passion within himself, thinking about it - and with all his incredible humility - as his greatest work, written at the height of his maturity. It should also be remembered that it was Mendelssohn who resurrected this monumental work almost a century after it was written. Since then it has had an enormous impact throughout the world, including in countries such as Japan, which were not in principle receptive to its strong spiritual message.
Hermann Max's recording of J. S. Bach: Matthaus Passion (Capriccio 60 046-2, rec 1995) with the Rheinische Kantorei and Das Kleine Konzert embodies current orthodoxy in most respects: two choirs of 16 voices each are partnered by two orchestras of comparable size, with period instruments sounding at low (Baroque) pitch; tempos are mostly quite sprightly and textures light; ornamentation is sparing and discreet, but cadential appoggiaturas in the recitatives are mostly in place (though the latest fashion seems to be increasingly to omit them). Christoph Pregardien and Klaus Mertens are ideally cast as the Evangelist and Jesus: precise in diction, judicious in expression. The other soloists are more variable. Hans-Georg Wimmer is dependable rather than inspiring in the bass arias. Veronika Winter brings a choirboy timbre to `Blute nur, da liebes Herz!', but there is also a hint of choirboy insecurity in her singing, which seems occasionally to affect also Monika Frimmer in the other soprano numbers. Some of the best solo singing comes from the alto Lena Susanne Norin and the tenor Wilfried Jochens.
Philippe Herreweghe's Bach performances are like no others: spiritual and deeply felt, but also scholarly, and thoroughly thought-through. They sound collaborative, with the vocal soloists given plenty of liberty, but they also give the impression that there is a singular will shaping the performance into a unified and wholly individualistic reading. Even the tone of the period instruments is subtly different: warm yet pungent, colorful yet blended, sometimes sweet, but more often tart. Listeners familiar with the Bach of Gardiner or Harnoncourt may at first be challenged by Herreweghe's approach, but the power of his performances may win them over. In this 1998 Harmonia Mundi recording of the "Matthäus-Passion," tenor Ian Bostridge's account of the central role of the Evangelist is slightly to the left of center, more emotionally expressive, and more rhythmically pliable than most, but Herreweghe's interpretation can easily accommodate him. (James Leonard)
In 1767 the Music Director of Hamburg, Georg Philipp Telemann, died. As his successor, his godson Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, was appointed. One of his duties was to compose and perform a setting of the Passion every year. In Hamburg the Passions were performed in a four-year cycle, in which the Gospels alternated, starting with St Matthew and closing with St John. Bach asked Telemann's grandson, Georg Michael, who had taken over his grandfather's duties for the time being, what the circumstances of Passion performances in Hamburg were, assuming his first duty was to compose a Passion for 1768. But his departure from Berlin was delayed and he arrived in Hamburg shortly before Easter 1768. Therefore his first Passion was the St Matthew Passion of 1769…
Johan van Veen
…I greet this stunning performance as the way to hear this masterpiece. ~ J.F. Weber, Fanfare
"With this work a new world opened up to us", wrote the actor singer Eduard Devrient, recalling the momentous revival of the St. Matthew Passion some forty years earlier in 1829, when he was joined by Mendelssohn, then barely out of his teens yet fully able and willing to shoulder the burden of a stupendous musical challenge. Bach's masterpiece was already one hundred years old but could look back on little more than one or two unsatisfactory performances, scant recognition, and not a note in print.Performer: