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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very great musical and spiritual experience
I find the so-called authentic approach, such as that of Gardiner, to a work like the Matthaus-Passion especially damaging: the music tinkles by tritely and yet with too much merely technical self-consciousness. In such recordings the scripture of the text goes meaninglessly for nothing, and the music does not transcend itself. With the soaring vastness of a...
Published on 17 Sep 2000

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bach for its time
I was once in a pub and overheard a conversation between two elderly chaps, who were praising the virtues of the organ in the church next door (where I had just spent a rather hungover couple of hours rather wishing it would play a little quieter), and they both agreed that "it plays Bach wonderfully". This gave me pause for thought: the instrument is indeed well suited...
Published on 10 Mar 2008 by William Burn


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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very great musical and spiritual experience, 17 Sep 2000
By A Customer
I find the so-called authentic approach, such as that of Gardiner, to a work like the Matthaus-Passion especially damaging: the music tinkles by tritely and yet with too much merely technical self-consciousness. In such recordings the scripture of the text goes meaninglessly for nothing, and the music does not transcend itself. With the soaring vastness of a cathedral, and so slow it seems endlessly to be coming to an end, Klemperer's classic recording is as far from showy newfangledness as could be, and here at last the words and music are allowed to strike home with meaning and feeling. This is not only, alongside the likes of Solti's Ring and Furtwangler's Tristan, a record of inspired music-making, but also, by dint of being theologically informed and spiritually illuminated, a religious experience. Despite the scale and speed of the reading the Philharmonia sound has no heavy, big-band richness, but is pure and stark, with an almost sour edge on it, so there is no loss of clean bite and clarity in the counterpoint, which Klemperer gets airborne with an intense rising weight and momentum. The soloists happen to be some of the finest singers of the time - Fischer-Dieskau's Christ a voice out of Eternity, Pear's castrato speech-song Evangelist, Schwarzkopf and Ludwig like mourning Magdelenes - but more importantly they and the Choir project the words with meaning and feeling in good German diction, and sound haunted or harrowed, doomed amd damned, or full of martyrs' faith, as needed. The orchestral tone is likewise raw-nerved with pain, or incandescent with faith and hope, and it is the grief, guilt, and suffering of the Passion that comes across, with near-unbearable tragic, then redemptive, grandeur - suffering in every moment transfigured into transcendent beauty, which gestures not merely to the mystery of Bach's Passion music, but to the Mystery of the Passion itself.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bach for its time, 10 Mar 2008
By 
William Burn "gingerburn" (Nottingham, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
I was once in a pub and overheard a conversation between two elderly chaps, who were praising the virtues of the organ in the church next door (where I had just spent a rather hungover couple of hours rather wishing it would play a little quieter), and they both agreed that "it plays Bach wonderfully". This gave me pause for thought: the instrument is indeed well suited in tone and colour to the energy and counterpoint of Bach's fugues, but surely they have missed the point - it is the player who plays Bach well, not the instrument. Perhaps the same could be said of this version. The singers are, as the other reviewer remarks, the finest of their generation, but Klemperer ultimately uses them in such a fashion as to make the experience of listening to this an exercise more in endurance, rather than a moving spiritual journey.

I have awarded the disc 3 stars, and each of them is well and truly deserved. The most prominent role is of course that of the Evangelist, sung by Peter Pears, who restricts himself to telling the story without too many histrionics or drawing too much attention to himself (it is hard, though, to agree with the other reviewer, who describes Pears as "castrato" - if anything, that term could apply to Bostridge on the more recent recording by Herreweghe. Pears sings with a full tone throughout, and very impressive it is too.) Moreover, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's Christus is a revelation: it is common practice nowadays for Christus to be dark and massive-toned, but the writing itself suggests a baritone, rather than a bass, should sing the role (there are too many top E's for a low bass to be really comfortable.) The result is that Dieskau introduces a calmly reflective quality to the character that is most welcome. Think saving victim, rather than the Church mililtant. The other soloists are also first-rank in every case. Schwarzkopf is a model of control and beautiful tone; Christa Ludwig is gorgeous (if a little swoopy); Gedda is stunning and Walter Berry sings wonderfully. It is interesting to reflect that these were (with the exception of Pears and Dieskau), first and foremost singers of opera, yet the size of their voices does not get in the way at all of the music - rather, it allows more colour and flexibility, especially at the extreme ends of the range, than many modern specialist baroque singers, (and it could be said that this criticism applies more to singers of 20 years ago than now), who often possess one colour which quickly runs out into harshness when drama is called for. It reminds me a little of the recordings Karl Richter made in the 1960s with singers from the Stuttgart Opera.

However, therein lies the difference: Richter was happy to carry over the excitement, colour, and even adrenalin from the operatic stage into his Bach, and it made for a thrilling result. Not, perhaps, as we would do it today, but nonetheless thrilling. Klemperer, however, has taken a different line, opting for reverence over excitement. The other reviewer clearly likes this very much (saying they project "the words with meaning and feeling in good German diction"), but to my ears what they perceive as feeling for the text is in fact an approach that drains the work of dramatic intensity, which cannot be compensated for by good enunciation. In short, it is far too slow, even allowing for the taste of the time, and the opening chorus can only be said to lumber, rather than pulse with menace, as it should. While the soloists are capable of sustaining the arias, the choruses are by and large very dull: where all the meaning of the text is crying out for a dramatic outpouring of sound, the effect is simply pedestrian. Sadly, this is the undoing of the whole disc.

So can I recommend this recording? There is, indeed, much here that no modern conductor could ever even hope to achieve, largely owing to the remarkable range of voices on display. However, it is simply too slow to be genuinely moving. So who should buy it? If you already own other recordings, this is a fascinating insight into how Bach was performed before the "rediscovery" of early music at the end of the 1960s, and the singers recommend themselves with no further qualification needed. However, if you do not yet know this work, I urge you to look elsewhere, perhaps to Gardiner's recording with Rolfe-Johnson as the evangelist, or to Herreweghe's newer disc (marred only by the choice of Ian Bostridge as the storyteller). I myself look forward with great interest to when the outstanding Balthasar-Neumann-Chor from Germany decide to undertake this project.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent (when it's not ponderous), 17 Dec 2013
This review is from: St Matthew Passion - Bach (MP3 Download)
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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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A great recording, but a damaged copy, 19 Aug 2013
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This recording is, rightly, a classic of the gramophone, even in these days of 'authentic' performing practice for works of this period. Sadly this copy, although, described as 'good' condition, has a number of surface scratches that produce loud clicks when played. This is a throwback to the days of LP. These things should be more thoroughly checked before despatch.
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St Matthew Passion - Bach
St Matthew Passion - Bach by Otto Klemperer/Sir Peter Pears/Sir Geraint Evans/Wilfred Brown/Philharmonia Choir/Hampstead Church Boys' Choir/Philharmonia Orchestra/Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau/Elisabeth Schwarzkopf/Christa Ludwig/Nico
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