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Bach: Matthäus Passion Box set

4.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

Price: £24.90 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
Includes FREE MP3 version of this album.
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Product details

  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Audio CD (3 Sept. 1987)
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Format: Box set
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • ASIN: B000001G8G
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 219,594 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
  • Sample this album Artist - Artist (Sample)
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Disc 2
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Disc 3
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12
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Product Description

KARAJAN HERBERT VON / BERLIN P

Customer Reviews

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As Herr Professor Doktor Horst Leuchtmann explains in his scholarly notes to this issue, this is a work which was regarded as revolutionary and disturbing right from its first performance in 1729, through to its revival in abridged, re-arranged and truncated form by Mendelssohn exactly a hundred years later and even beyond until the Bach revival really got underway in the early 20C. For the purist, it was too overtly dramatic and "theatrical" to constitute liturgical "good taste" - think Verdi "Requiem, for a valid analogy.

We surely do not think that way today but of course for the HIP enthusiast Karajan's approach is too grand and "vertical". The sound here - never remastered since its appearance on CD - does not help, in that it is arm and spacious but also rather mushy, distant and soft-edged in comparison to the clarity and definition which a good,modern re-engineering could achieve, especially as this was recorded in 1972 in the usually grateful acoustic of the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, whence so many Karajan recording triumphs have emerged.

Nor is it artistically perfect, hence my deduction of one star for what I still regard as a great recording; it's four and a half, really, but I find Horst Laubenthal too effete and weedy in the tenor arias compared with a tenor of the Wunderlich variety, nor is the metallic, nasal tone of the other tenor, Evangelist Peter Schreier, much to my taste; however, he is on his best behaviour here and he narrates with great intensity, just as he does for Richter in his rather similar recording seven years later.
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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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Format: 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.
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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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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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