Having a healthy appreciation of sacred music whilst
at the same time being a committed atheist may seem,
at first, to be contradictory qualities.
I have never really thought it mattered much whether the great cultural
artifacts of mankind are the product of divine providence and intervention
or the magnificent manifestation of wholly human imagination and creativity.
The story of the death of Jesus Christ has, nonetheless, been the
source of inspiration for some of the greatest works of art,
whether in two, three or four (?) dimensions (what dimension
does music exist in ?).
The Matthaus Passion by J S Bach is one of the very greatest.
The drama is brought alive in music of quite extraordinary
power, complexity and emotional impact.
It is a good story very well told.
Where to begin in chosing a recording of this wonderful
work is a difficult task. There are a great many excellent
My two treasured vinyl sets are, I believe, among the best.
The 1971 Nikolaus Harnoncourt, somewhat quirky, edition for
Das Alte Werk, sporting an all male vocal cast, including
the stupendous Kurt Equiluz as The Evangelist, is a slightly
challenging left-field choice but delivers rich rewards.
The 1980, Karl Richter recording for Archiv, whilst being a
somewhat more 'old school' interpretation brings together
some of the finest singers of that, or any, generation.
Edith Mathis, Janet Baker, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau,
Matti Salminen and Peter Schreier (a peerless Evangelist).
I would not be without either.
It was time to consider a CD edition nonetheless.
The 2000 Harnoncourt (again!) Das Alte Werk recording
released on Warner Classics is a masterpiece.
Harnoncourt directs the Concentus Musicus Wien with
sensitivity and finesse. The warm ambience of the
Jesuitenkirche-Universitatskirche in Vienna brings
a glorious sonic bloom to the performance.
The two choirs : the Wiener Sangerknaben and the
Arnold Schoenberg Chor deliver a wide and expressive,
at times really thrilling, dynamic range.
The chorales, in particular, are sublime.
Soloists, including a mercurial but powerful
Christoph Pregardien as The Evangelist is a
consistent and convincing lynchpin.
Bass, Matthias Goerne is a fruity-voiced Jesus.
Equally so, contralto Bernada Fink. Listen to her
performance of the great aria 'Erbarme Dich Mein Gott'
for a heartwrending experience.
Soprano Christine Schafer's rendition of 'Aus Liebe Will
Mein Heiland Sterben' has an almost otherworldly beauty.
Bass Dietrich Henschel's elegant 'Mache Dich,Mein Herze Rein'
is yet another marvelous highlight among many others.
The musicianship throughout is of the highest calibre and quality.
The tempi are never sluggish (so important in this work) and
Maestro Harnoncourt's sensitive grip and vision never slips for a moment.
Among a great number of other worthy recordings it is my
pleasure to recommend this stunning interpretation very highly
to anyone stumbling across my clumsy attempt at a useful review.