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Bach: Matthäus-Passion
Johann Sebastian Bach, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, James Bowman
Bach: Matthäus-Passion
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (27) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (32) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (43) - Disc #3


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CD Reviews

A Milestone In Bach Recording History
R. Gerard | Pennsylvania USA | 06/25/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is certainly a milestone in the history of Bach on record. While there are many, new HIP (Historically Informed) recordings now (Gardiner, Koopman, Herreweghe, and even Harnoncourt's newest recording of the St. Matthew Passion) this present recording seems to be the most innovative, using an all male cast, whereas other HIP conductors use female sopranos and altos, a practice which was unheard of in Bach's day (in the Leipzig main churches anyway). After all, this could be considered the first Historically Informed Perfomance.

This is the kind of recording that forces you to truly reminisce about Bach's Leipzig and his choir, the Thomanerchor, the all-boys' chorus of St. Thomas Church. The boys were aged 6-19. It is known that women were forbidden to sing in church. Even more so, castrati. The soprano and alto soloists that Bach would have utilized were actually prepubescent boy trebles and countertenors. These are the soloists that Harnoncourt used in this recording, an attempt that is found nowhere else, not even in the newest HIP recordings.

Now, Philippe Herreweghe mentions that the boys' choir of today probably did not have the adquate training to meet the standards of Bach's choir. This in part because the boys of the day were more disciplined and took the learning of musical technique very seriously. Most importantly, the boys of the day pubesced at a later age, meaning their voices broke at a later age, around 15 or 16 or even 17, therefore the treble soloists and choristers would have had to been more powerful than those we hear today.

While Philippe Herreweghe is most definitely right with his rebuttal, Harnoncourt's recording is still a delight to hear, and probably no other recording, in my humble opinion, comes as close to replicating the sound of St. Thomas's Boys' Choir (with the exception of Herrweghe's record which actually attempts to replicate the stereophonics of the interior of St. Thomas' Church; and very successfuly). There is something very magical and unique about this recording, thanks to the boys' choir and innovative period instrument performers. Hearing "Sind Blitze, Sind Donner" sung with boy altos and sopranos in no way takes away from the drama of the number. It rather, adds to the beauty which has been hidden for years.

Not to mention that the soprano is a treble and the altos are actually countertenors. The countertenors are Paul Esswood and James Bowman, who is a pioneer in reviving the countertenor voice (someone that even Andreas Scholl admires). What a treat to hear James Bowman on the first HIP St. Matthew Passion! I was astounded to hear the soprano aria, "Aus Liebe" sung by a boy treble. As you'll hear, "Aus Liebe" is a challenging piece both technically and interpretively. And this young man's virtuosity is beyond belief. He should be applauded for his efforts which are beyond words.

Kurt Equiluz is a classic Evangelist and has superb storytelling abilites.

I would prefer much more relaxed tempos and instrumental playing, more to the liking of Herreweghe's second recording of the work. But it was nonetheless very good here.

Bach would have been proud. This is an old recording, but please don't let this deter you. The sound quality is excellent. This set of the St. Matthew Passion is definitely an Essential one. Don't hesitate."
Still the best
Gapare Pacchierrotti | Canada | 01/07/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I have to admit the advances in Baroque music seem to make this recording seem less clear and shaped, but that is not necessarily the way the orchestra was heard back then. It was only with Beethoven that we heard the orchestra arranged as we know it, and he did it to give better clarity as he couldn't hear it. If we were to sit an orchestra as they were seated in Bach's day, the clarity we are accustomed to would disappear.I still find this the best of the recordings for a few reasons. The countertenor of Paul Esswood is far better than all the new hot shots of today, and it has the proper depth to give an emotional depth to the reading. He is really a countertenor who is totally forgotten, yet so many of Bach's cantatas would never have come to light were it not for his singing.I am suspect of the pitch in the more modern recordings. It seems the instruments are very shrill and lack colour. This recording was wise to put the pitch down to the level it was in Bach's day. The standard pitch of today ( A 440, which more often than not is now raised nearly to A 450 ) distorts the sound of old instruments which were not made to withstand the greater tension. No recording of this music is authentic, even if played on authentic instruments, if the pitch is too high to let the natural mellowness of these instruments come through. The loudness and brilliance of todays instruments were not possible on these older ones ( I have 2 violins and a viola di gamba from the early 1700's and have pitched them at the pitch of their day, and of our day -- todays pitch robs them of warmth, even if it gives the *clarity* were are used to ).This said, for those who wish to hear Bach as he probably heard his music ( though we can never say for sure we are exactly correct ), this is the recording to buy. It brings one things so lacking in all the academically perfect recordings -- soul to the music of a man who dedicated all he did to God, and who tried to express his profound love of God in the works he wrote. I have never found that in any other recording of this work."
Integrity with emotional depth..
Mr. J. S. Stallick | Brighton, United Kingdom | 08/26/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This was the very first Harnoncourt recording I heard-and how exciting that was! I recently heard bits of his more recent recording and I think that although impressive the later recording tends towards caricature in its striving towards theatricality. The earlier recording on the other hand has marvellous warmth and a naturalness that is heart rending. I have to say that no tenor that I have heard does a better job of the Evangelist part as does Kurt Equiliuz. His voice reminds me of a cello with gut strings and he never tries to grab attention away from the essential dramatic movement of the piece. He is emotional without being sentimental. The other soloists are marvellous aswell. Karl Ridderbusch as Christus has an amazing profundo voice with a sweetness that is beguiling. Paul Esswood is fantastic-his 'Erbarme dich' is a model of contained poignancy. One of the boy soloists has a maturity beyond belief in 'Aus liebe will mein Heiland sterben'. The Kings College men with the Regensburg Domchor are wonderfully mellow. Occasionally speeds are a little plodding in some of the arias although generally I prefer more relaxed tempos (often sorely missed in modern performances). So all in all-a performance to savour, and you really do get the impression in this pioneering recording of the excitement of removing layers of grime from a masterwork. My favourite St. Matthew!"