Notes and Editorial Reviews
To follow the Christmas Oratorio, the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks under its artistic director Peter Dijkstra again present a major work by Johann Sebastian Bach, in a live recording on CD and
DVD: the St. Matthew Passion. The choir's instrumental partner is the renowned period instrument group Concerto Köln, who can already be heard together with the choir on several BR-KLASSIK CDs (Händel: Israel in Egypt, Dixit Dominus; Bach: Magnificat). Bach's epoch-making St. Matthew's Passion can be heard in historically informed performance practice with the renowned Bach singer Julian Prégardien, the Regensburger Domspatzen and further well-known soloists. The DVD edition of
this live recording from Munich's Herkulessaal features highly atmospheric lighting effects.
R E V I E W:
St. Matthew Passion
Peter Dijkstra, cond; Julian Prégardien (
); Karl-Magnus Fredriksson (
); Karina Gauvin (s); Gerhild Romberger (mez); Maximilian Schmitt (t); Michael Nagy (bar); Bavarian R Ch; Regensburger Domspatzen; Concerto Köln
BR 900508 (3 CDs: 163:29
German only) Live: Munich 2/12–17/2013
To begin with, it was nice to hear a historically informed performance that did not sound as if it were being played and sung by MIDIs. Peter Dijkstra is obviously a fine musician, and so is able to draw a good sound from his smallish forces, including terraced dynamics in the chorus, that I found quite pleasing. He also chooses good tempos, not too slow but not too fast, either, and the recorded sound is both warm and crisp.
Our Evangelist, Prégardien, has a lovely light tenor voice but does not sing with any particular expression. Our Jesus, Fredriksson, sings with good expression but has a woolly, slightly grainy-sounding voice. Mezzo Romberger does not have the loveliest voice in the world, but she sings expressively. She sounds rather unsteady in her first recitative, but in the aria immediately following her voice is steady. Perhaps they were recorded on different days. Gauvin, as usual, is transcendent both vocally and expressively. As the performance progressed, however, Prégardien’s singing became more expressive and Fredriksson’s voice warms up. I must give the highest praise, however, to Dijkstra for holding it together and being able to sustain the right mood throughout this long and sometimes rambling work. In a way, this sounds like a lighter-weight version of the old Klemperer recording, which was one of the most heartfelt performances of this massive work I’ve ever heard.
The one singer who is consistently poor is Nagy, who has too much unsteadiness of both sustained notes and tonal emission. By the time we reach CD 2, however, everything seems to click in and expressivity is increased all round. Romberger may not have the best tone, but her “Erbarme dich” is one of the most deeply felt performances I’ve ever heard in my life, and her phrasing is simply astonishing. Nagy, too, miraculously improves on CD 2 for his aria “Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder,” and our tenor soloist, Schmitt, is very fine if a bit too similar to Prégardien.
All in all, this is one of the great triumphs of the historically informed performance philosophy. Dijksta understands that all these things they preach in the conservatories today—violin straight tone, singers and choruses with minimal vibrato, small performing forces, etc.—are, in the end, just
and not mandates to force a performance into narrow parameters. You still have to sing and play the music expressively, otherwise you’re wasting your time. His
St. Matthew Passion
is not just a musical conception: It tells a story, it has dramatic gestures and a theatrical feeling about it. You really feel for Christ as a person, not just admire his suffering in a stoic sense. You understand that Pilate was really caught between a rock and a hard place, and you really feel the emotions given in the arias. Just one example among many: Listen to the way Dijkstra injects a feeling of melancholy into the soft wind passages that open the soprano aria “Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben.” The conductor who can feel this music that deeply, and bring that feeling out in his players, is indeed a rare breed. In the booklet is a reproduction of a painting by Albrecht Dürer,
Christ as a Man of Sorrows,
in which he just looks so completely beat and depressed that you feel for him, much more than the stoic God-man who takes his beating and keeps on going. And it is this feeling that Dijkstra elicits in this new, magnificent performance, the quiet, still voice within us, not a heaven-storming event to smite us with its awe-inspiring power. This is a great recording. I should also note that there is a DVD version available on BR Klassik 900509 for those of you who enjoy watching a performance of a concert Mass. I don’t.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Julian Prégardian (Tenor),
Gerhild Romberger (Alto),
Michael Nagy (Baritone),
Karina Gauvin (Soprano),
Maximilian Schmitt (Tenor),
Karl Magnus Fredriksson (Baritone)
Regensburg Cathedral Choir,
Bavarian Radio Chorus
Written: Circa 1727; Leipzig, Germany
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