Magazine article Gramophone

JS Bach: St Matthew Passion, BWV244

Magazine article Gramophone

JS Bach: St Matthew Passion, BWV244

Article excerpt

JS Bach

St Matthew Passion, BWV244

Werner Gura ten Evangelist Johannes Weisser bar ChristusSunhae Im, Christina Roterberg sops Bernarda Fink, Marie-Claude Chappuis contrs Topi Lehtipuu, Fabio Trumpy tens Konstantin Wolff, Artuu Kataja basses Berlin State and Cathedral Choir; RIAS Chamber Choir; Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin / Rene Jacobs

Harmonia Mundi [M] [3] ([2] [SACD] + [DVD])

HMC80 2156/8 (159' * DDD/DSD)

DVD includes session videos and interview material


Jacobs's exploration of spatial depth in the Matthew Passion

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.

Rene Jacobs has never been shy of a new hunch and taking it as far as (and sometimes beyond) what is either reasonable or defining. His revision of the idea of how the St Matthew was performed in St Thomas's, Leipzig, is predicated on the belief that the experience for listeners--before the organ in the Swallow's Gallery was dismantled in 1740--was a spatial perspective of depth, not width: in other words that the first 'choir' of participants in the large west gallery provided verbatim Gospel action (complete with Evangelist and Christus) while, far down the nave, the second 'choir' offered human reaction and reflection. In reality, one imagines that the exact position of the worshipper's seat may have had something to do with the impact of this ambitious scheme.

Recordings can create ideal dialogues often unrealisable in performance but this isn't the case here, where the problem is twofold. Building 'worlds'--or arias--unto themselves and placing them within the unfolding dramatic summa is the ultimate challenge for any director but inconsistency of singers has historically undermined many a finely gauged performance. As well as this, the spatial agenda appears to accentuate the least convincing vocal contributions.

Jacobs has a magnificent vocal presence of soloists from Choir 1--led by the polished and increasingly believable Evangelist of Werner Giira (supported by as kaleidoscopic a continuo as has ever been committed to disc) and a Chrisms in Johannes Weisser who is intensely human, even febrile as he confronts the terrible events one by one. …

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