30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Amongst the vast legacy of recordings from Mengelberg's Amsterdam years, this one had until now eluded me. Well, the wait was worthwhile! I doubt that the St Matthew Passion recording, wonderfully vivid for 1939, has ever sounded as well as in this 2004 remastering by Mark Obert-Thorn. You'll be aware of a few patches of blasting in the opening chorus, and a few clicks thereafter, but you'll soon feel comfortably enveloped in the grand ambience of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. The recording is especially kind to the choir.
So much for the recording quality, what of the performance? Commitment, sincerity, grandeur and reverence - words like this typify it. Don't expect metronomic totality to be sustained in each item. Indeed, so many are the kinks and bends in the music's flow that you'll wonder how such large forces directed by one diminutive conductor could maintain such perfect ensemble. Those who favor contemporary styles of Bach performance will need to forget all that. Repeated hearings might show that behind Mengelberg's idiosyncracies is a strong understanding of a great event and a commitment to making Bach's music reveal it directly.
Complete St Matthew Passion performances were rare in the 1930s. Bruno Walter was one conductor who later regretted that he had conducted "cut" versions. This one lasts for about two and three-quarter hours. All Mengelberg's other Bach recordings are added to fill the third CD.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 26 April 2012
We have owned the LPs of this performance for nearly 50 years, and now own the CDs. It is a recording we have brought out nearly every year during Holy Week. It is magnificent, prayerful and emotional. It is old, it has coughing, it has charm, but it is shattering. The choruses and chorales have never been sung with such intensity. It is pre-war, and all the performers must now be dead. No other performance or recording is like it. We cannot speak or write more highly of it.
I challenge any conductor, or any choir, or any soloist to attempt a similar performance using modern recording techniques. Klemperer's version is in the same tradition, but comes nowhere near it in intensity; other "authentic", modern versions seem merely melodramatic.
This is a churchman's drama. Listen to it on your knees!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 23 April 2010
It is a piece of music loved by millions all over the world. What makes this performance just adorable? Willem Mengelberg's interpretation is completely different from our now-a-days interpretation. The Romantic era which is implemented in his version of the St. Matthew Passion gives us a different view on Bach's masterpiece. I think it is very nice to have different interpretations of this masterpiece and this version must be in the collection!