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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars unique and deeply moving
With a stellar cast and very fine EMI recording, this is a unique version of the St. Matthew Passion, one enjoyed above all others by its devotees , and it has held its place in the catalogue pretty well since it was first issued. In its own terms it is unparalleled, and yet ... and yet ..... I can't just dismiss the best of the 'authentic' versions with smaller forces...
Published on 8 Mar 2007 by Mr. Ian A. Macfarlane

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18 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars bach in slow motion
having admired some of klemperer's recordings (his fidelio is stellar!) i was tempted by this st matthew passion, but after hearing it it seems - at least in my opinion - that the 'good old days' weren't always so good. over the last 30 years our ears have been retrained into period practices for this kind of music, and klemperer's approach just will not do. this is not...
Published on 22 Sep 2007 by B.D.A


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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars unique and deeply moving, 8 Mar 2007
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Mr. Ian A. Macfarlane "almac1975" (Fife, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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With a stellar cast and very fine EMI recording, this is a unique version of the St. Matthew Passion, one enjoyed above all others by its devotees , and it has held its place in the catalogue pretty well since it was first issued. In its own terms it is unparalleled, and yet ... and yet ..... I can't just dismiss the best of the 'authentic' versions with smaller forces and a leaner approach, generally faster tempos and clearer internal balance. In the end of the day, I find John Eliot Gardiner's version, for example, as moving as this, as well sung and, because it is more varied and more dramatic (though not more spiritual, but not less either), a more approachable version. I find Klemperer is a bit of an effort, to be honest, and not for doctrinaire reasons but because some of the arias really do go for a long time and there is less variety in tempi and sonorities than in the Gardiner version. So I would withdraw a single star because, for me, there are versions which it is easier to live with, but for occasional hearings, this remains required listening for all admirers of this extraordinary work.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent (when it's not ponderous), 17 Dec 2013
This fifty year old recording has so much to admire and so much which exasperates. Its qualities sometimes flip over into being its defects. In judging it here, I am not interested in whether it lives up to the ideals of modern 'historically informed' performances. I am interested in judging it as effective music-making in its own right, and whether it presents the drama and emotion of Bach's magnificent achievement in a manner that is interesting and convincing.

Klemperer made this recording before the modern tendency towards increasing speeds led to a mania for dashing which too often trivialises and undermines the music. Trivialising the music is precisely what Klemperer does not do. His slow speeds allow the music to breathe, and allow everything that is in the music to be revealed. He takes the whole thing extremely seriously, and this is a virtue, because the St Matthew Passion is a deeply serious work, not something to be skipped and danced through. Sometimes, however, this virtue is taken too far, and whilst in general Klemperer maintains, even at slow speeds, a definite forward-moving momentum, there are certain things about the performance which are impossibly ponderous. Ponderous not because of slowness, but because of a failure of momentum, or because of stodgy articulation. Especially painful are the sleepy continuo bass and plodding harpsichord. The final chorus of Part 1 must have been recorded on a bad day, because everyone seems to be heavily sedated, directionless, uncertain: it sags terribly.

Where things are not hopelessly ponderous, Klemperer is magnificent. The opening and final choruses have all the grandeur and seriousness inherent in the music, fully realised. Most arias come off extremely well - slow, yes, but always going somewhere, always purposeful.

The singers are not all to my taste, but taste in singers is a very individual matter, and you will perhaps like them all. I don't like Peter Pears's strangulated evangelist, but admire his subtle artistry. Fischer-Dieskau was once told by Klemperer 'you give too much' and admitted years later to never having understood what Klemperer had meant. Here he does often 'give too much' - I find his singing horribly overwrought. I am all for an operatic style in this work, but great artistry does not embrace the sort of exaggerations of tone and expression which Fischer-Dieskau indulges in here. I have rarely been enchanted by Schwarzkopf's warbling vibrato, which we get quite a lot of here. She too 'gives too much'. A simpler style would suit the music better - but not the blankly expressionless style favoured by many modern singers in this part. A middle course is needed. The one really intolerably awful contribution here is Gedda's. His yelping, straining manner and his often vague approach to exact pitch are simply excruciating. This is not, I think, simply a matter of my taste, but rather of bad singing. It's a great pity because in other recordings he sings exquisitely. Something was not right with him during these sessions. Christa Ludwig sings gloriously as always ('Erbarme dich' is a highlight), as does Walter Berry. The choirs are satisfactory but I would have preferred crisper articulation. This probably wasn't available in 1962: we had still to wait for John Eliot Gardiner to come along and make choirs give their best.

From a technical point of view, the recording is in decent stereo, typical of its time, with sensible layout of the complex forces, and a strange and pleasing aural-visual illusion which seems to place the trebles higher in space than the other performers. The CD transfer has revealed some really horrible tape edits, most often towards the ends of the evangelist's narrations, when his final words 'und sprach:' or 'und sprachen:' are spliced crassly onto the rest. A small point, but very distracting and irritating.

I have not yet found a completely, uniformly satisfactory and enjoyable recording of the St Matthew Passion. I strongly recommend this recording, despite my many reservations and gripes, because Klemperer gives a mighty account of a mighty work; because apart from Gedda's yowling contribution the singing is generally very fine; and because we need a massive antidote to the increasingly jaunty trivialisation of the feeling and drama behind the notes. With Klemperer 'massive' is precisely what you get. I love it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For me an event, 9 Nov 2012
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J. Waite - See all my reviews
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I've known this recording for many years and listening to it again recently provokes this review. It's a part of my life and for me has become beyond criticism. The speeds are slow, sometimes very slow, but always to my ear in order to savour, dwell on and feel in a deep way the extraordinary music that this piece represents. Magnificent singers, a unique and uniquely talented conductor fortunately recorded just in time and very beautifully in stereo. Highly recommended.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't bother with other recordings, 7 April 2004
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The Penguin "JH" (Great Britain) - See all my reviews
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I echo the comments of the above reviewer - this recording comes directly from the heart - without concern for "authenticity" or gimmick, Peter Pears (Evangelist) was at the height of his prowess and this shines through - not only for him but for the other artists around him.
The "feeling" of the crucifixion comes through clearly on this, an excellent recording which has transferred very well it is certainly worth the money and will hold true for many more years
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63 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bach As Bach Abd Not An Academic Exercise, 17 Mar 2004
The historical performance lobby (classical music's version of political correctness) would like to brainwash listeners into thinking that Bach can only be performed by small forces on alleged period instruments of modern production. How deep their belief is I am not sure as I have yet to hear of one volunteering to become a castrato. If one reads Bach's letters two common complaints abound. The quality of the instruments were poor and he wanted more performers. If anything this Klemperer performance is more in keeping with what Bach wanted than the regressive historical performance want.
In Klemperer's hands the Saint Matthew Passion is not an academic exercise but a deeply felt human drama. His orchestra and choirs (directed by one of the master choral directors of the 20th Century Wilhelm Pitz)are simply superb. The chorales which act as a sort of Greek Chorus throughout the work are not a one size fits all. As the tragedy deepens the tone becomes edgier and more sorrowful adding a further touch of humanity to the performance. Many recordings, often for economic reasons, double or triple the singers on parts but EMI opens the wallet and gives us a fine ensemble to carry us along. Many were at their peaks or just getting there. What they bring is a personality and an individuality to their parts and the listener can feel the emotional attachment they have created. It is something far to rare these days and EMI's very fine 1960's recording preserves it for us.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A generational thing?, 14 Sep 2013
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This review is from: St Matthew's Passion (Audio CD)
I grew up with this recording, I still remember my father playing it on LP on Good Fridays (though an atheist family, we observed custom!) and pointing out the differences between the soprano and alto registers to a four- or five-year-old me. Of course, since then there have been other landmark versions with the smaller orchestras and choirs and faster tempi dictated by the 'period music' cabal (a previous reviewer's comments on them being the politically correct musical police de nos jours certainly made me smile!). To my mind the revelation was not so much Gardiner but the Harnoncourt rendition, where the smaller choir is so agile and the central performers (Bernarda Fink coming as close to Ludwig as it's possible to hope; Matthias Goerne out-Fischer-Dieskaus Fischer-Dieskau; and Christophe Prégardien manages the unthinkable in equalling Pears) are nearly faultless. And yet when I played it to my (by now septuagenarian) father, he complained of the rhythms, he found the choir 'muffled' and finally went 'no-one can outdo Klemperer!'...

Well no, they can. But this should never mean that this majestic, expansive, deeply moving recording should be forgotten or denigrated. I read somewhere recently that Otto K. was 'a great conductor despite his unforgivable Bach' - well, aesthetic patricide is probably de rigeur in all of the arts, but surely one could take a deep breath and pause before saying that the ultimate 'Erbarme dich' as sung here by Christa Ludwig, and for which Klemperer and his ponderous time-signature must surely be given some credit too, is 'unforgivable'! I would say the same for the closing and, especially, the opening Chorale, where again I could totally understand young (well, not so young anymore...) Turks thinking 'get on with it, already!' but where the relaxing of the tempo and the swell and rush of the seemingly infinite choir project a majesty, a profound humanity that often gets missed in thin albeit fastidious period-instrument recordings. Buy it - and then buy Harnoncourt or Gardiner or an even newer recording too. It's probably (with the exception of the B-minor mass perhaps?) the greatest choral music ever to be sung on earth, so having multiple versions, and finding good in more than one approach, could only be seen as a good thing. Don't kill your fathers yet...
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable, 26 Sep 2012
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I was fortunate in being present in the Royal Festival Hall when Otto Klemperer directed the complete Passion on a Sunday afternoon and evening in the early 60's. It was after the recording had been made, which was Klemperer's custom. The one soloist absent from the concert was Fischer-Dieskau, his place taken by Franz Crass. On the morning of September 25th 2012 BBC radio 4 broadcast a programme about the St Matthew in which a New York Musician, Arnold Shulman gave an accout of his miraculous recovery from a massive heart attack. It seems he was at death's door whewn his wife who had an Ipod and knew his love of the Bach, put the earpiece into his ear and played the opening chorus. Within 30 seconds his heart monitor began to quicken and he eventually made a complete recovery. Was it Klemperer's recording? I like to think so!
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18 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars bach in slow motion, 22 Sep 2007
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having admired some of klemperer's recordings (his fidelio is stellar!) i was tempted by this st matthew passion, but after hearing it it seems - at least in my opinion - that the 'good old days' weren't always so good. over the last 30 years our ears have been retrained into period practices for this kind of music, and klemperer's approach just will not do. this is not bach but it is brahms and wagner disguised as bach ...

the tempi are so slow that i found it partly annoying (for instance a drawn out 'mache dich mein herze rein', not even walter berry's suave singing can save the day as the orchestra just drags on and on and on). i did not see any spirituality in it and it did not move me. the chorus is huge and bombastic which renders the chorales unbearably heavy. obviously the orchestra plays very well but not in a style appropriate to the music - at least not to my ears...

the singers are a mixed lot too - elisabeth schwarzkopf was in late career mode, which means that all she did was art but little of it was pure singing, sometimes it seems as if she is meowing her way through the music (don't get me wrong, she possessed a magnificent voice and up to the mid 50's her recordings are often great but after that point she overdid the artistry and became too mannered). bach needs heartfelt simplicity and no artistic overkill. christa ludwig is magnificent but she could have been even better in a better surrounding. ditto walter berry. fischer-diskau is fischer-diskau but his jesus is definately a man of statue...

to sum it up ... this st matthew passion is an experience, but certainly one i don't want to experience again. for me bach needs to be crisp as to convery a spiritual mission, but klemperer's 'vision' is too sticky for my taste. i know that i will probably divide opinion on this, but after all this is my view. i am not saying that this version is bad, it is just not a version i would recommend listening to more than once...
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding version of St. Matthew, 10 Sep 2009
Mr Klemperer is performing one of the most (The One, I would say) outstanding version of St. Matthew Passion. It is a reference for more modern versions, and thus this title is necessary in any Barroque music collection.
Enjoy!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dated, ponderous and painfully drawn out arias, definitely a minority reading now, 2 Mar 2014
By 
So if you already love this performance, this review will not be of interest to you. The purpose of my comments is to inform anyone trying to choose a library "go to" version of this profound, moving, and highly personal musical masterpiece.

From the outset, the most immediate feeling one gets on listening to the opening of Klemperer's monolithic performance is the painfully slow shapeless meandering of the scene-setting. When I listened to the vinyl boxed set in the early 70s, long before modern period-academia performances took hold, I then found it almost unbearably unable to get to the point. Now, after hearing it again after many years, I am even more shocked and disappointed by the failure of this version to give any meaningful sense of the flow of events, nor sufficient variation in mood or passion. The wonderful transition following Jesus' rezitativ "in dieser nacht ..." into the famous chorale "Erkenne much, mein Hüter..." turns into a funereal dirge which sags and slows further towards a miserable end where the soporific orchestra are trying to close in an indeterminate final lack of unity with the conductor. Even the fabulous singing by Dietrich Fischer-Diskau cannot carry forward-movement into the chorale.

Continuing on, the entire performance seems like one of those dreams where one is trying one's hardest to run but no matter how hard one tries, one only moves in terrifyingly slow motion.

Ludwig's affectations at some points, especially some excessive coloration, and some very odd choices of glissando, are painfully out of place, giving an impression that she is slightly miscast.

Peter Pears is first rate and actually gets a few opportunities to move on, but always the momentum is lost by the conductor immediately after.

This reading was always held as slow and lingering, when viewed favourably. However, given the available competing versions which breathe movement, flow, angst, passion and intensity far more effectively, I now hold this Klemperer version as a stagnant study in self-indulgence, doomed to extinction were it not for the names of the soloists gracing the performance.

I should emphasise that this is not intended to show disrespect those who love this version, simply to put a view that Bach and St Matthew Passion can be understood and enjoyed extremely favourably in other, more dynamic performances. Before buying this version I would strongly recommend hearing samples of John Eliot Gardiner's performance, and also the set with John Butt and the Dunedin consort available on hybrid SACD. For a truly fantastic historical performance, originally on 78s, taken slower than modern readings, but perfectly crisp and full of motion and poetry, the Jacques version sung in English with Elsie Suddaby & Kathleen Ferrier, Eric Greene (remember him??) as the Evangelist, and the Bach Choir, if you can find it.

Choose wisely to meet your personal wishes.
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