Top positive review
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Supreme playing and singing . . .
on 14 April 2008
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.