John Eliot Gardiner – J.S. Bach: St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244 (2017) [Qobuz FLAC 24bit/96kHz]

Johann Sebastian Bach – St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244 – James Gilchrist, Stephan Loges, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner (2017)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz  | Time – 02:41:02 minutes | 2,64 GB | Genre: Classical
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz | Booklet, Front Cover | © SDG/Monteverdi Productions Ltd.
Recorded live in Pisa Cathedral on 22 September 2016 during the Anima Mundi Festival

A new live recording of Bach’s St Matthew Passion (Matthäuspassion BWV 244), recorded in Pisa Cathedral during the Anima Mundi Festival as part of the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra’s 2016 tour.
As well as the full sung texts, the booklet includes both a programme note by Sir John Eliot Gardiner as well as his tour notes: written both before and during their 6-month international tour – which began in Valencia in March and concluded with this performance in Pisa on 22 September – these include diary entries and notes given during rehearsals or sent in the aftermath of concerts to the performers (who were performing from memory).

In last week’s newsletter I interviewed Sir John Eliot Gardiner about recording Bach’s St Matthew Passion live, three decades after his pioneering studio account of the work (made in Snape Maltings in 1989); the proof of the pudding is of course in the eating, and as numerous readers responded to ask for a review, here are a few thoughts from me on how it measures up.
Gardiner may have lived with this music for half his life, but still gives the impression that he’s discovering little miracles in it for the first time: there’s never any sense of routine from him or from the performers, despite this being the final performance of a gruelling European tour. Having all singers commit the score to memory was clearly more than a mere marketing gimmick or endurance-test: the Monteverdi Choir can turn on a dime from the rapt contemplation of the chorales to the savagery of the crowd baying for Christ’s blood. That’s not to suggest that there’s any drop in emotional temperature during the chorales themselves: the sense that everyone is personally invested in the unfolding events is every bit as palpable as it was in Peter Sellars’ staged ‘ritualisation’ from Berlin which I reviewed a few years ago (those of you who’ve read last week’s interview may remember that Gardiner didn’t pull his punches about his dislike of ‘painfully gratuitous’ stagings, but this recording’s imbued with his conviction that Bach approached the Passion story with ‘the flair of the born dramatist’).
James Gilchrist’s Evangelist is a known quantity (he’s recorded the role for Richard Egarr and Paul McCreesh), but the live performance spurs him onto ever more vivid and at times harrowing commentary – the shock of each humiliation heaped upon Jesus is as raw as if you’d never heard the narrative before. Stephan Loges bears out Gardiner’s remarks about the Jesus of the Matthew Passion being ‘more human’ than in the John, and indeed this comes across more strongly here than on the 1989 recording, where Stephen Varcoe was almost dispassionate when predicting his denial by Peter – here Loges flares with barely-suppressed anger and hurt.
So what else is different, thirty years down the line? In terms of tempi, very little: Gardiner remains ever-aware of the dance-impulses underlying the music, though my general impression was of the arias in particular being given more space to unfold even when the metronome-markings are virtually identical on the two recordings. The contrasting acoustics also play a role: Pisa Cathedral is warmer and more resonant than Snape, and the antiphonal exchanges are more pronounced (helped by the positioning of the two choirs – throughout the tour, Gardiner made a point of capitalising on the dramatic potential of the large performing-spaces available).
As on his earlier recording, Gardiner shares the arias around rather than bringing in single dedicated soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists; this time round, the individual singers (with the exception of the Evangelist and Jesus) are all ‘step-outs’ from the Monteverdi Choir. If solo contributions are perhaps less consistently assured across the board than those on the earlier set (which boasted names including Barbara Bonney and Anne Sofie von Otter), there are some lovely distinctive voices: the bass-baritones Ashley Riches and Jonathan Sells give particularly eloquent accounts of ‘Komm, süsses Kreuz!’ and ‘Mache dich’ respectively, as well as making vivid and incisive contributions as Pilate and Judas. Other stand-outs are sopranos Zoe Brookshaw and Hannah Morrison, both steady and clear of tone but with more bloom and warmth than their counterparts in 1989.
One for Gardiner devotees and newcomers alike, then: if you own his earlier recording, you’ll want to hear this for the crackling dramatic energy generated by the live performance; if you’re looking for a first Matthew Passion, you’ll be held spellbound by the unflagging momentum of a reading that’s the product of three decades of studying, performing and loving this music. -Katherine Cooper, Presto Classical

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244
Part I
1 6:53 1 Chorus Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen
2 0:36 2 Evangelista, Jesus Da Jesus diese Rede vollendet hatte
3 0:41 3 Choral Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen
4 2:59 4 Evangelista Da versammleten sich die Hohenpriester
5 0:52 5 Recitativo Du lieber Heiland du
6 3:55 6 Aria Buß und Reu
7 0:39 7 Evangelista, Judas Da ging hin der Zwölfen einer
8 4:25 8 Aria Blute nur, du liebes Herz!
9 2:04 9 Evangelista Aber am ersten Tage der süßen Brot
10 0:44 10 Choral Ich bin’s, ich sollte büßen
11 2:44 11 Evangelista, Jesus, Judas Er antwortete und sprach
12 1:18 12 Recitativo Wiewohl mein Herz in Tränen schwimmt
13 3:14 13 Aria Ich will dir mein Herze schenken
14 0:57 14 Evangelista, Jesus Und da sie den Lobgesang gesprochen hatten
15 0:59 15 Choral Erkenne mich, mein Hüter
16 0:55 16 Evangelista, Petrus, Jesus Petrus aber antwortete und sprach zu ihm
17 1:02 17 Choral Ich will hier bei dir stehen
18 1:29 18 Evangelista, Jesus Da kam Jesus mit ihnen zu einem Hofe
19 1:57 19 Recitativo O Schmerz!
20 4:56 20 Aria Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen
21 0:40 21 Evangelista, Jesus Und ging hin ein wenig
22 0:54 22 Recitativo Der Heiland fällt vor seinem Vater nieder
23 3:52 23 Aria Gerne will ich mich bequemen
24 1:10 24 Evangelista, Jesus Und er kam zu seinen Jüngern
25 0:59 25 ChoralWas mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit
26 2:17 26 Evangelista, Jesus, Judas Und er kam und fand sie aber schlafend
27 5:03 27 Aria So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen Chorus Sind Blitze, sind Donner
28 2:01 28 Evangelista, Jesus Und siehe, einer aus denen
29 5:35 29 Choral O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß
Part II
30 3:28 30 Aria Ach! Nun ist mein Jesus hin!
31 1:02 31 Evangelista Die aber Jesum gegriffen hatten
32 0:39 32 Choral Mir hat die Welt trüglich gericht’t
33 1:11 33 Evangelista, Testis I, II, Pontifex Und wiewohl viel falsche Zeugen herzutraten
34 1:04 34 Recitativo Mein Jesus schweigt
35 3:48 35 Aria Geduld! Wenn mich falsche Zungen stechen
36 1:58 36 Evangelista, Pontifex, Jesus Und der Hohepriester antwortete
37 0:59 37 ChoralWer hat dich so geschlagen
38 2:28 38 Evangelista, Ancilla I, II, Petrus Petrus aber saß draußen im Palast
39 7:04 39 Aria Erbarme dich, mein Gott
40 1:00 40 Choral Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen
41 1:44 41 Evangelista, Judas Des Morgens aber hielten alle Hohenpriester
42 2:44 42 Aria Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder!
43 2:05 43 Evangelista, Pilatus, Jesus Sie hielten aber einen Rat
44 1:06 44 Choral Befiehl du deine Wege
45 2:11 45 Evangelista, Pilatus, Uxor Pilati, Chorus
46 0:43 46 Choral Wie wunderbarlich ist doch diese Strafe!
47 0:18 47 Evangelista, Pilatus Der Landpfleger sagte
48 1:15 48 Recitativo Er hat uns allen wohlgetan
49 5:28 49 Aria Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben
50 1:46 50 Evangelista Sie schrieen aber noch mehr
51 1:00 51 Recitativo Erbarm es Gott!
52 6:20 52 Aria Können Tränen meiner Wangen
53 1:07 53 Evangelista Da nahmen die Kriegsknechte des Landpflegers
54 1:58 54 Choral O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden
55 1:09 55 Evangelista Und da sie ihn verspottet hatten
56 0:33 56 Recitativo Ja, freilich will in uns das Fleisch und Blut
57 6:13 57 Aria Komm, süßes Kreuz, so will ich sagen
58 3:22 58 Evangelista Und da sie an die Stätte kamen
59 1:21 59 Recitativo Ach, Golgatha, unsel’ges Golgatha!
60 3:06 60 Aria Sehet, Jesus hat die Hand
61 2:24 61 Evangelista, Jesus Und von der sechsten Stunde an
62 1:45 62 ChoralWenn ich einmal soll scheiden
63 2:35 63 Evangelista Und siehe da, der Vorhang im Tempel zerriss
64 1:46 64 Recitativo Am Abend, da es kühle war
65 6:35 65 Aria Mache dich, mein Herze, rein
66 2:35 66 Evangelista Und Joseph nahm den Leib
67 1:50 67 Recitativo Nun ist der Herr zur Ruh gebracht
68 5:19 68 Chorus Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder

James Gilchrist, tenor (Evangelista)
Stephan Loges, bass (Jesus)
Hannah Morrison, Zoë Brookshaw, Charlotte Ashley, soprano
Reginald Mobley, Eleanor Minney, alto
Hugo Hymas, tenor
Ashley Riches, Alex Ashworth, Jonathan Sells, bass
Trinity Boys Choir
David Swinson, director
The Monteverdi Choir
The English Baroque Soloists
Kati Debretzeni, leader
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor



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