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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, but not for puritans, 14 Jan 2004
This review is from: Bach: Matthäus Passion (Audio CD)
Being a music scholar, I would have shunned a Karajan recording of any Bach-piece and have gone for a period performance instead. I bought Gardiner's recording 2 years ago and marvelled at the wonderful phrasing and the insight into performance technique of that particular performance. Then my girlfriend gave me this one. It is a different weight class altoghether. Although one would say that the orchestra is too large and indeed the choir as well, the sound is too heavy and the phrasing is nowhere near modern day baroque standards :-). But Karajan's concern is mainly with the text of the work. You can't help to be moved from the opening chorus and all the way to the end. The soloists are brilliant as well. Peter Schreier offers much drama and suspense as the Evangelist and I could think of a better singer for the part of Jesus than Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Actually it's only Walter Berry who's a bit off. I find him a bit wobbly and unprecise in the bass arias.
While this probably should be your only St. Matthew Passion, it makes a brilliant second. It's not period performance, but it's Easter drama all the way...
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Try a different view..., 22 May 2008
By 
Mr.Woods (Liverpool, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bach: Matthäus Passion (Audio CD)
Definitely not one for the bloodless muesli-munching Bach Taliban!
OK, the choir isn't the absolute best in the world (bass-lines sometimes disappear, especially when the choir splits into two). But at their best they're very good....the cry of "Barrabam!" is a shocking as it should be, sounding almost like something out of Penderecki's St. Luke Passion.
I agree totally with the previous reviewer, it's the drama here that grips you from the first bar to the last, Karajan, Schreier and Fischer-Dieskau carrying the narrative forward unerringly and movingly, and how wonderful to hear Gundula Janowitz's ethereal tones in the arias....much preferable to some voiceless early-music soprano squeaking away.
OK, this version not for everyone, but it demands to be heard!
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HIPster Wars - News from the Bach Front - Communiqué 13, 19 Mar 2012
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This review is from: Bach: Matthäus Passion (Audio CD)
The name of Giovanni Battista Piranesi does not appear as a credit on this iconic box but perhaps it should. The Eighteenth Century Venetian, as many know, is famous for his etchings of the ruins of Ancient Rome. There is a world of difference between a draughtsman and an artist; Piranesi's ability to convey `dormition, decadence and decay' places him firmly in the second category. Ever so astutely, he suggests that these monuments of Empire, ruinous though they be, were raised by a race of giants rather than the forefathers of the pig-herders and cattlemen who creep uneasily between the blocks of marble and shattered inscriptions "to find themselves dishonourable graves." Indeed, they resemble cockroaches.

Here on Amazon, the Period Practice Taliban is ascendant. A glorious past where musicians of integrity wrestled with works such as the Matthew Passion is routinely rubbished with desultory references to the Nineteenth Century thrown in for good measure. Quieten down and munch away on your low-fat, low-salt, gluten-free muesli bar as you behold these follies of the past and please note: "before us all men were stupid!" (thanks Fred).

Karajan's second traversal of the Matthew Passion was recorded in January 1972. It takes a brave person to praise it in the current climate. While it is deeply reverential, its luscious full-blooded gestures make it (and the Klemperer) an easy target for the peashooters of the Taliban. "It could almost be Puccini!" they squeak.

Thankfully it is much less soupy than Karajan's 1974 account of the Mass in B Minor, largely because it is so concentrated; one senses its affinity with the contemporaneous Tristan & Isolde with Vickers and Dernesh: like the Wagner, it could be likened to a master-tapestry. Every note is touched by a genuine sense of occasion but not to the detriment of the whole. The warmer, more open acoustic was also used: the Jesus Christus Church. It adds greatly to the success of the venture.

The female singers are a heavenly array: Janowitz and Ludwig at their peak are self-recommending. The ever-reliable Walter Berry is lustrous and the ring-ins sing with poise and beauty. On paper, the combination of Schreier and Fischer-Dieskau is alarming - could it be another diction shoot-out at the OK Corral? Happily they are in best form. Indeed, this is as close as Schreier ever came to semi-replacing Wunderlich. Collaborations between Herbie and DFD were surprisingly few. Whatever the reason be, I can't think of another performance where there is such a sheen and nobility to Fischer-Dieskau's voice: arguably it is his greatest performance on record. Better still, the halo that the Berliner Philharmonic impart to his discourses is worthy of Bach's exalted conception - it's worlds away from the `authenticity' of the English Baroque Scratchers.

There are two caveats: occasionally the chorus is wayward in pitch; secondly, I bought my copy, appropriately enough, in Rome in 1992 and it is still current: a remastering is long overdue. Much like Forster's John Passion, the only way to listen to it is via headphones or earphones. In fact this is an imperative.

Given its current disrepute in the marketplace - if not outright neglect - this recording of the Matthew Passion warrants the attention of a latter-day Piranesi. Imagine this scenario: led by their tour-guide, Father Melchizedek (the High Priest of Period Practice), the Taliban trot into the Basilica of Maxentius to pillory the remnants of the colossus of Constantine the Great - a controversial figure for sure. With its torso and limbs missing, the statue has been battered by the vicissitudes of time; even so, one hand still points resolutely to the sky.

Gun stuff.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars old style sometimes best, 1 Sep 2013
By 
J. M. Johnson - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bach: Matthäus Passion (Audio CD)
Having listened to classical music for many years now and witnessed the trend for anything related to Bach being given the 'period instrument only' treatment it was refreshing to listen a full-blooded orchestra giving the music the uplift of vibrato and emotion that personally I find lacking in a lot of period orchestra recordings. This made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I think there is room for both styles of recording and I'm glad we have the legacy of Karajan (regardless of his political views) to listen to and admire.
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