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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bach in the grand style, 11 April 2012
By 
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bach: St Matthew Passion (Audio CD)
I am well aware of the revolution in Bach performance over the last thirty years, familiar with the HIP movement and authenticists such as Gardiner, Herreweghe and, more recently, the One Voice Per Part approach of such as the Dunedin Consort, but when all is said and done, this 1979 recording is how I like my Bach performed and I care not a jot for the accusation that I am a dinosaur, especially as I know many yearn for the days when Bach could be heard without the doctrinaire insistence upon perky rhythms and reduced forces. I want a vertical sense of grandeur, I want solemnity and drama combined, I want first class singing and a choir large enough to give the sense of their being representative of all humanity, voicing its fears and sorrows.

Convicted HIPsters will be grinding their teeth within seconds of hearing the slow, stately, deliberate pace set by Richter for the opening chorus, "Kommt, ihr Töchter" but the conductor knows what he is about and over eleven minutes builds and builds a mighty edifice of sound to achieve an overwhelming sense of majesty. Yet the chorus is equally capable of suggesting terror, vindictiveness, sorrow, compassion and the whole gamut of emotions it is required to express over the course of narrating the Passion. The diction of everyone involved is excellent and the words emerge clearly along with lovely intonation. The Munich Bach Orchestra plays beautifully, especially the golden flutes and warm oboes; the aureate glow surrounding Christ's every utterance is perfect. The ambience of the Herkules-Saal is ideal, creating a halo around the sound without obscuring detail.

Unlike so many more modern recordings, the soloists here are eminent and fully up to the demands made on them. I am not normally a fan of either Fischer-Dieskau or Peter Schreier, but the former is restrained and dignified in his delivery of Jesus' pronouncements, devoid of mannerisms or over-emphasis, and Schreier's rather piercing, constricted tone lends bite and urgency to his narration and arias. The other three singers are near perfect: Edith Mathis sings with a purity and poise to rival Janowitz; Janet Baker has never sounded better: rich, warm, delicate and subtle; Matti Salminen's somewhat agricultural sound perfectly suggests Peter's naive, rustic nature and the strong, simple faith of the arias for bass.

By all means enjoy a leaner, meaner, purer performance style in this music but don't overlook the beauty, sincerity and dynamism of this recording. Its only competition are the Klemperer and Karajan sets.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Old fashioned but good., 20 April 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Bach: St Matthew Passion (Audio CD)
My first impression was that this is simply too slow; but then I am moreused to modern "authentic" performances, with smaller forces and fastertempi. This recording does not claim to be authentic, and nowadays cansound dated and a bit mannered. However, it is an passionate performance,always honest, of its age. (You can be true to the music without having toreproduce exactly what Bach himself would have heard.) Although slowerthan is usual nowadays, the pace seems to be born of respect, a refusal tohurry past the music, an insistence that we hear every note that Bachwrote and have time to contemplate its significance. The soloists are allgood too. It might not be anyone's first choice but it has some sublimemoments and at the new super-bargain price can be recommended.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Authentic in a Different Way, 27 Mar 2012
By 
margaret (Craighall, South Africa) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bach: St Matthew Passion (Audio CD)
The opening chorus is slow. To ears used to the more modern "authentic" style, this reminds us of how much modern scholarship has given us. However, as it continues, the sincerity and depth conveyed by conductor, musicians and singers surpasses the stylistic considerations, and one is caught up in the sheer musicality of this work.

It has drama - plenty of it. Peter Schreier is the quintesstial evangelist and he is ably supported by (and in turn supports) expert singers of that era. I must confess, I loved it, and have played it often. Not that there aren't other more modern and in their way just as effective versions of this, but listening to this interpretation reminds us that there is something transcendant about music. This classic illustrates that very well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My Favourite HIP Matthew Passion, 18 May 2014
By 
Jonathan Lynch (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bach: St Matthew Passion (Audio CD)
This, along with the DVD by Karl Richter in 1971 are my favourite HIP versions of the Matthew Passion.
HIP means many things. It can be historically informed in an outward way by using period instruments and trying to perform it in a style that the performers believe Bach would have used.
Many period instrument performances take this tack although they often do it in a haphazard manner. Oboists using old oboes with modern reeds rather than the ones used in Bach's time, male falsettists singing the alto arias although there is no firm evidence of them performing the Passions in Bach's time. I submit a male singing falsetto is no more historically informed in this music than a female mezzo-soprano. You may prefer a countertenor but please don't pretend that it's any more authentic.
In Bach's time as far as we can tell in Leipzig he used boy sopranos and altos for the arias. If you are wishing to strictly adhere to HIPP then you are pretty well duty bound to use boys even though any I've heard these days make the most awful mess of this music. It is clear that Bach either had boy singers who had the most wonderful voices and training or he wrote the music for a future time for ideal performers who could actually sing the music.

The reason I love Richter's recordings of these works is they are HIP in a different way. The thing I find lacking is most if not all of the HIP versions I've heard of these works is any profound sense of involvement with the meaning of the text. The versions I have owned (Gardiner, McCreesh & to a lesser extent Hereweghe) all fail to treat the text with the gravity it cries out for. Another reviewer used the unforgettable expression "chirruped apologetically in case there might actually be a God."

If we are going to be HIP lets be HIP from the inside as well as the outside. When this Passion was written it was only 30 or 40 years after the 30 Years War where people were killing each other for being the wrong brand of Christian. The gospels were considered fact and the received word of God. Bach's music adorns and ornaments what he and the people of his time considered to be word of God. Surely this must also be a consideration in any genuinely HIP performance.

Karl Richter's performance makes the text real for me. I don't know if KR and Co. are Christians I don't particularly care (I'm a Buddhist anyway, but if I'm going to spend 3.5 hours listening to the central message of Christianity then I want it done by people who at least give the impression of meaning what they sing). Karl Richter & Co. make me believe they believe what they sing by the reverence with which they convey the meaning of the text.
Other ways these recordings qualify as HIP are KR's articulation of the score. Yes he uses modern instruments but this was a conscious choice on his part not to ignore the development of instruments since Bach's time. He uses modern versions of all the instruments called for in the score, he articulates the music in the way we've come to know as Baroque performing style, his singers sing the written trills which echo the instrumental accompaniment. In so many ways this is a Historically Informed Performance.
KR uses a fairly large double choir but their pitch and articulation is so good they are able to bring out all of the polyphonic strands in the music. I've heard may smaller choirs sound much less focused than the Munich Bach Choir.

All of the soloists are as good as any I've heard in this music. Schreier is a wonderful Evangelist eclipsed only by Haefliger in KR's earlier recording (what a pity Wunderlich never recorded the Evangelist in the Matthew Passion). DFD is excellent as Jesus and I'm not usually a fan of his. Dame Janet Baker doesn't always eclipse Christa Ludwig in the alto arias but that she does sometimes is the highest praise I can give an alto in this music. Edith Mathis sings the soprano arias as well as Janowitz for Karajan and much better than a lady who used to sing a bit for EMI.

This is the eighth of nine recordings of the Matthew Passion I own and along with KR's DVD it is by far the best.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great, 17 July 2013
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This review is from: Bach: St Matthew Passion (Audio CD)
I am an Amazon fan and a faithful client. I do want to leave positive reviews when they are deserved but I don't have enough fantasy to invent a new review every time. So: simply perfect. Thx
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5.0 out of 5 stars Bach's St Matthew Passion: timeless, wonderful. A very good recording., 15 May 2014
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This review is from: Bach: St Matthew Passion (Audio CD)
Almost 50 years ago, we received LPs (4 of them) of this work, conducted by Karl Richter. I was very pleased to see you had CDs available from 1985 in which he is the conductor. It is as I expected it would be, very moving with some great quiet moments, so a good purchase. Thank you.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great rendition of the Matthew Passion, 31 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Bach: St Matthew Passion (Audio CD)
I have listened to many a recording and performance, and I agree with most of the above, specially the 1st review.
Why care how it alledgedly would have sounded in Bach's time ? Who knows anyway ? And wasn't JS unhappy about that himself pleading with his employers for more and better musicians ? Would you rather listen to the Well tempered Clavier or Goldberg variations on a harpsichord (that's how it sounded then), or played on a decent piano ?
Richter does Bach justice, together with Koopman and Gottsche.
Harnoncourt, Van Herrewhege and the likes don't even come close.
Also sprach Zarathustra !
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6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HIPster Wars - News from the Bach Front - Communiqué 46, 10 Dec 2012
By 
This review is from: Bach: St Matthew Passion (Audio CD)
"Number Five - you've bumbled your way through the year and now you are going to make it up to me and consummately so!"

Thus spoke Ernst Hogwood-Blofeld, Number One of SPECTRE (Sinister Period Practice Enacted to Counter Traditional Readings Everlastingly) to Rene Jacobs, the dumpy and hapless Number Five. They were sitting in the former's study in the hollowed out volcano.

"No worries Chief!" the counter-tenor screeched. "Name the job and consider it done!'

"As you know, Father Melchizedek OP, the so-called High Priest of Period Practice, was arrested last week on my orders. He's incarcerated in the dungeon below us. The evidence is irrefutable: he's a plant from our buddies at Universal Imports. I would not be surprised to learn that `Karla' - Eliette von Karajan - is his paymaster and writes most of his reviews."

"That's awful Chief! And heck, I've already sent him a SPECTRE Christmas Card with a picture of Jeggy on the front as Santa Claus."

Hogwood-Blofeld screwed up his face in rage.

"I don't give a stuff! Why am I so surrounded by idiots, clowns and knaves? Why, why, why! Now listen up, you nincompoop! The evidence is irrefutable. Consider what damage Father Melchizedek has done to our cause: his claims that Hasse is just as great a composer as Haydn or Mozart and that his long-forgotten stage-works are going to sweep the opera-houses of the world; that a Messa by Bononcini is comparable with Johann Sebastian Bach's mighty Mass in B Minor; that both Mozart and Rossini are baroque composers - and don't start me on his various claims re bel canto singing. The list goes on and on and includes, not least, his dogmatic insistence upon one-voice-per-part and clipped phrasing. This cleric is clearly an agent provocateur and a fake priest at that. It is time to act. I want a confession - that's your task. Short of playing one of your own discs, use whatever means at your disposal. Make it happen, Number Five, lest I start to pay credence to other doubts . . . . BTW, you will find an Iron Maiden modelled on Sandrina Piau in the dungeon. Use it unmercifully. It'll be murder on his man-boobs!"

A day later, Jacobs rang through with an update. Father Melchizedek was still denying the charges.

"He's always wanted to be a castrato," Hogwood-Blofeld roared. "Well, humour him! And drill him a new hole while you're at it!"

Number Five rang back the next day. Father Melchizedek was exalting in his new state and wanted to catch up with Philippe Jaroussky & Max Emmanuel Cencic: show-tunes were on the agenda.

"Ok, ok, ok," the Head of SPECTRE conceded. "This is a tougher challenge than what I thought. I'll send a package down. Use it carefully. It WILL break Father Melchizedek and leave him a quivering blob of jelly."

Hogwood-Blofeld put down the phone and opened his safe. It contained three items: the keys to the SPECTRE doomsday machine; some vials of Plutonium 239 and Karl Richter's second recording of the Matthew Passion, undertaken in the last year or so of his life (1979). A note from Counter-Intelligence was attached to the box-set.

`It would be easy to decry this account as Bach being performed like Bruckner. If such a throwaway line has any relevance here, it refers to the breadth, power and concentration of this signal event. How musical this performance is - it is the complete opposite of a pallid, dry-as-dust skip-through by modern-day practitioners who have no metaphysical connection whatsoever with the music. Consider the array of soloists. It's stellar. The only weak link on paper is Peter Schreier and he minimises his gritty tone even if he is in worse voice, comparatively speaking, than what he was for Karajan in 1972. Edith Mathis and Janet Baker are a more heavenly duo than the Discouri. Dietrich Fischer Dieskau is always at his best in Bach: there is no suggestion he is going to unleash `Die Forelle' at any given moment. A large chorus is used but its diction and dedication cannot be gainsaid: its members are clearly swept up in the fervour of Bach's vision of Good Friday. The warm analogue recording is in the best traditions of Deutsche Grammophon; it's perfectly balanced. Something rare and wonderful occurs on the third disc. As memorable as the performance has been hitherto, it deepens out with `Ach Golgotha'. One can actually hear the change and it continues unabated to the closing bar of 'Wir Setzen Uns Mit Tränen Nieder'. This is no mere performance of a set-score. It is a religious rite. If Transubstantiation has ever occurred outside the Mass - in the sense of channelling the salvific power of Golgotha - it's here. Not even the Klemperer operates in the same dynamic. The stillness of 'Nun Ist Der' can only be likened to the Deposition from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden where St John and the Women behold the Dead Christ in the gloom. Consumatus est.'

Mmmmh, it sounds impressive in its own way, Hogwood-Blofeld thought covertly to himself. A courier took it down to the dungeon. Shortly afterwards, there was a knock on the door. It was a pale-faced Rene Jacobs.

"Here you go, Number One!" he squeaked. "A signed confession from Father Melchizedek. You'll need to defrock him in the very least. And I want to make a confession myself too! Where do you want me to start?
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