This 2012 recording of the most influential and wide spread oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach features the Hungarian conductor Iván Fischer, a visionary in his field, with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. The double choir is the essential musical aspect on which Iván Fischer’s interpretation of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is based. Only by consistently seizing on that duality will all the complementary layers stand out as they should. He describes this essential fundamental aspect as follows: “You can’t do the St. Matthew in an unreligious way. The only approach is from a deep, universally religious feeling.
The renowned St. Thomas Boys Choir of Leipzig, which boasts J. S. Bach as a former cantor, celebrates its 800th anniversary with an extraordinary interpretation of the St. Matthew Passion. The Guardian praised how the harmonic lines interwove with a transcendence that can only be achieved through living, eating and working together. This Accentus Music production is the only audio-visual release of Bachs St. Matthew Passion, performed by the choir for which it was written, in St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, where the composer worked and is buried.
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.
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.