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Bach: Matthew Passion Hybrid SACD, SACD, Box set

4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Hybrid SACD, SACD, 10 Mar 2008
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Product details

  • Performer: Nicholas Mulroy, Matthew Brook, Susan Hamilton, Malcolm Bennett, Brian Bannatyne-Scott, et al.
  • Orchestra: Dunedin Consort & Players
  • Conductor: John Butt
  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Audio CD (10 Mar. 2008)
  • Please Note: Requires SACD-compatible hardware
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Format: Hybrid SACD, SACD, Box set
  • Label: Linn
  • ASIN: B001355OUW
  • Other Editions: Audio CD
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 93,726 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Matthew Passion (Bach's Last Performing Version) (101 Tracks On 3 CD's) - Johann Sebastian Bach

Product description

Product Description

For the many fans of the Consort's award-winning Messiah,the release of another Handel album is welcome news and Acis and Galatea does not disappoint! Classic FM Magazine named the recording 'Opera & Vocal Disc of the Month'.In addition to awarding the recording five stars the magazine also stated...the freshness with which they sing radiates joy throughout the entire score.This adds to the numerous recommendations and outstanding reviews that the double award-winning group have received for their recording of this pastoral entertainment by Handel. Gramophone magazine also named the recording 'Disc of the Month' and it was named the First Choice Recommendation by CD Review's Building a Library on BBC Radio 3,described as a vivacious performance brimming with sheer happiness. In 2012 the recording was named one of the 5 Essential Works by Johann Sebastian Bach' by BBC Music Magazine.Album of the Month,Utterly magical... rival Handel sets will have to be special indeed to top,or even to approach,this.Gramophone.Opera & Vocal Disc of the Month,The freshness with which they sing radiates joy throughout the entire score.(five stars)Classic FM Magazine.CD of the Week,Wonderfully intimate reading.The Observer.[An]outstanding new recording...warmly recommended.International Record Review. Recording of the Month,Already a strong contender for the 2009 Recording of the Year.MusicWeb International.Handel fans rejoice-a definitive Acis and Galatea at last!(five stars)Audiophile Audition. Such radiant music-making is an ideal hors d'oeuvre for the upcoming Handel year.(five stars)Financial Times.

BBC Review

Fresh from the success of their double award winning Messiah, the Dunedin Consort and John Butt are back with another historically-informed 'first', this time Bach's final revision of the Matthew Passion. Broadly, this means the substitution of a harpsichord for one of the normal two organs, plus changes in the vocal numbers and combinations.

From the word go, the Dunedin Consort draws you in. The instruments are perfectly balanced, the playing is soulful, there are subtle swells, and the lilting tempo strikes a happy medium between pace and sobriety. So, nothing to dislike in the instrumental department, and everything to love. As for the vocal, the debate over how many voices to a part (three to four, or one) Bach used or wanted has raged for a good quarter of a century and no doubt will continue for some time to come. For the purposes of this review, you just need to know that John Butt falls squarely in the single-voice-to-a-part camp. This will mean that, if you're used to a traditional choral performance, the entry of the voices will take you by surprise, sounding quite thin in comparison to your expectations and to the full instrumental sound. Give it a chance, though, as it doesn't take long for the ears to adjust, and then you'll begin to appreciate that what is lost in body is gained in the clarity of the beautifully sung vocal lines and the transparent texture. My one quibble would be with some of the chorales. With their observations for today's believer I expect, even crave, to be lifted to another spiritual plain, but it doesn't always feel as though the singers' bodies and souls have completely surrendered to the passion of these extraordinary words. That said, there are some lovely solo moments, such as Clare Wilkinson's Erbarme dich.

Essentially, whether you love this recording will boil down to how you feel about one-voice-to-a-part Bach. However, even if you're not usually a fan, such is the quality of sound, you may end up being converted. --Charlotte Gardner

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Audio CD
The sheer quality and accuracy of instrumental playing is quite wonderful on this recording - slightly superior even to the already supremely high standards for Gardiner or Suzuki. The solo singing is also notable for incredibly accurate intonation - in particular from the very firm Bass/Baritone of Matthew Brook, in my opinion the finest Jesus I have heard in any recording. The house-style here is period singing of the sort that eschews vibrato to a very large extent. Clearly the idea of one-per-part in the choir will put buyers off. I can only urge that any Bach fans who are not doctrinaire about 1-p-p give this recording a try - the benefits in clarity in the big contrapuntal numbers are immense, and to my ears the chorales are more interesting and human when I can hear individual voices rather than a blended choir sound. Paul McCreesh's version of the Matthew Passion is also 1-p-p and is very fine also in parts and keenly dramatic but, as the previous reviewer hints, he adopts some extreme tempos and has some mannered touches.

At the moment this would be my desert island Matthew Passion despite how good Gardiner and Suzuki both are. I have no "authentic/period" axe to grind and found that the slight changes to instrumentation in this recording (it claims rather self-importantly to be the first recording of Bach's 1742 version) were too minor to notice - apart from the presence of a Harpsichord in the opening chorus. The reason to buy this set is not due to it being authentic but because it features the most exquisite playing and singing.

Critical reaction in the press, at least that I have read, was somewhat lukewarm in comparison to the accolades heaped on the Dunedin consort's Handel Messiah (many critics do still have a 1-p-p vs larger choir axe to grind). Don't let that put you off, this is very special indeed. The recorded sound is also extremely clear and of the highest modern standards.
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Format: Audio CD
John Butt is a respectable Bach scholar and he has done a great deal of work with regard to Bach's vocal scoring in the two Passions. Here for the second time on record (I think) he has used the OVPP (one voice per part) for his performance of St Matthew Passion. Six concertists, Jesus, Evangelist and two soprano repienists constitute the entire vocal force. It works brilliantly to convey both senses of intimacy and austerity in Bach's score. This is matched by Butt's fluid pacing of the music and the performer's lucid diction (no operative singing style here) and the result is a most refreshing and natural sounding Matthew Passion that I have heard in years. Highly recommended as an alternative to usual HIP recordings of this music such as Herreweghe's, Gardiner's, or even the more self-consciously dramatic McCreesh (the first OVPP recording).
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Format: Audio CD
I acquired this recording having long had on my shelves the Gramophone-recommended Harnoncourt (2001) account which, for some reason or another, I’ve seldom ever played. Harnoncourt has a dream cast of soloists and well established credentials in Bach going back decades. All good then? - in principle, yes, and I can see why Gramophone may have recommended it. But in practice, it was just not something I ever found myself listening to. Having now listened to, and enjoyed immensely, John Butt’s version with the Dunedin consort, I can begin to see why.

Butt takes us into a world of Bach that is brightly-lit and fresh-sounding. This is thanks to his fresh-sounding soloists, a brilliantly clear and close-up recording, and his adoption of a one voice per part approach. Debate about the historical correctness of the one voice per part approach, as used here, and whether or not Bach would have wanted it this way, can distract from the obvious advantages such an approach can bring, and which are abundant in this recording, namely greater immediacy, very much a case of less being more.

But I am not won over to this recording on the grounds of academic argument. I am won over by its sheer satisfying musicality. In this regard, the use of youthful-sounding soloists has paid off for nowhere is there the kind of over-studied feel that can creep in when big international names are used. Nicholas Mulroy as the Evangelist is an absolute pleasure throughout. There are none of the lieder-like mannerisms that one gets with Ian Bostridge or James Gilchrist is such roles. Mulroy relies on the sheer plangent quality of his tenor to hold our attention. Matthew Brook as Jesus should also be mentioned for the steady quality of his singing.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This masterpiece evokes personal passions, including that particular empathy and bonding with particular performances that "speak to me" - no doubt most ardent listeners will recognise the feeling. Bach's music does this. I wonder if somehow the first time one hears a sculptural and profound Bach work which goes to the heart, so to speak, it does something permanent to the brain's firmware, a kind of imprinting, as happens to birds learning their birdsong. Just so with St Matthew's Passion. Therefore, my enjoyment of this version is definitely biased by what I have enjoyed before. I definitely prefer the more flowing and period-piece sound which this agrees with, compared with older performances. Though I make a particular exception for the incredible Jacques version, sung with intimate perfectionism (and sung in English to boot - which in any other performance I cannot abide) at a poetically flowing, though slower, pace. But this is all just background bias.

Since becoming imprinted with the iconic Gardiner version, it has been difficult for me to hear other recordings with much empathy.

But...This fantastic performance led by Butt is a breath of fresh air to me.
Dealing with some sonic issues to get them out of the way: at first I listened to it on the SACD layer, using digital multichannel in, through my home surround system (Denon / Denon / Mission 78x series), which usually brings out very satisfactory nuance and clarity via Audyssey-calibrated channel balance. However, the sound was HORRIBLY unbalanced. Extremely tinny and edgy with excessive high frequency harmonics, and boomy bass.
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