Bach: St. Matthew Passion / Padmore, Harvey, Fischer

Release Date: 3/26/2013
Label: Arthaus Musik
Catalog Number: 101676
Conductor: Iván Fischer
Number of Discs: 2

Physical Format:

Notes and Editorial Reviews
Also available on Blu-ray

Johann Sebastian Bach

Evangelist – Mark Padmore
Christ – Peter Harvey
Maria Espada, soprano
Ingeborg Danz, mezzo-soprano
Renate Arends, soprano
Barbara Kozelj, mezzo-soprano
Peter Gijsbertsen, tenor
Henk Neven, bass

National Children’s Choir
Netherlands Radio Choir
(chorus master: Gijs Leenaars)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Iván Fischer, conductor

Recorded live from Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam, 2012

Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.0
Subtitles: German / English / French / Spanish
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Running time: 174 mins
No. of DVDs.: 2 (DVD 5 + DVD 9))

R E V I E W:

BACH St. Matthew Passion Iván Fischer, cond; Mark Padmore ( Evangelist , ten); Peter Harvey ( Jesus , bs); Maria Espada, Renate Arends (sop); Ingeborg Danz, Barbara Kozelj (mez); Peter Gijsbertsen (ten); Henk Neven (bs); Netherlands R Ch; Natl Children’s Ch; Royal Concertgebouw O ARTHAUS 101 676 (2 DVDs: 174:00)

BACH St. Matthew Passion & John Nelson, cond; Werner Güra ( Evangelist ); Stephen Morscheck ( Jesus ); Lucy Crowe (sop); Christine Rice (mez); Nicholas Phan (ten); Matthew Brook, Bertrand Grunewald (bs); Schola Cantorum of Oxford; Maîtrise de Paris; OC de Paris Euroarts 3079658 (2 DVDs: 177:00 + 55:00 documentary)

& John Nelson’s “Saint Matthew Passion”—The Journey

These two new videos are the first I’ve seen of the St. Matthew Passion and so are joint landmarks for me. They have much in common but are different in many ways. Both were filmed at live performances in important venues in major European (non-German) cities by large choirs with modern-instrument orchestras under the direction of imported (non-German) conductors. Both conductors profess the deepest reverence for Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

One obvious difference between the two releases is that Fischer and Arthaus divide the Passion into its two constituent parts, one on each of its two discs. Nelson and Soli Deo Gloria (which has no connection with John Eliot Gardiner’s label) have squeezed the whole Passion onto one 177-minute disc. The second disc has a 52-minute documentary of Nelson rehearsing and discussing St. Matthew —more about this later—and some promotional clips.

Fischer’s performance is in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw with its clean lines and spacious, well-lit stage. Nelson’s is in the historic 12th-century Basilica of St. Denis in Paris, the first of the great Gothic cathedrals. Its temporary stage is a little darker, more austere. It is, after all, an ancient church, not a modern concert hall. St. Denis feels more crowded, too, partly because the children’s choir fills the space between the two adult choirs. In a nice theatrical touch, Fischer gathers his children around the podium at the start of the opening chorus. (Midway through the movement they retreat to their permanent station behind the adults.) The separation between the two choirs and orchestras is greater spatially at the Concertgebouw, and aurally in Arthaus’s recording, which can be disorienting when the camera shows Fischer looking one way and the sound emerges from the opposite side. Fischer employs two separate quartets of soloists, one for each choir. The arias are more or less evenly divided between the two groups, except for Ingeborg Danz, who has four arias and a duet with Maria Espada. Mark Padmore, his Evangelist, and Peter Harvey, his Jesus, attached to the first choir, sing one and two arias, respectively. Nelson uses seven soloists: Werner Gura and Stephen Morscheck in the narrative roles as Evangelist and Jesus, respectively, and his solo quartet singing all the arias. (Matthew Brook doubles as Judas and Pilate; Bertrand Grunewald is Peter and the High Priest.) There’s not a weak link in either lineup. One couldn’t ask for more from either Padmore or Gura; anointing one would be grossly unfair to the other. Morscheck is a more resonant Jesus, but Harvey brings such elegance to the role. High marks for both. Danz, with the lioness’s share of the arias, is eloquent, but so is Christine Rice, singing her first St. Matthew.

Both Fischer and Nelson conduct without batons. Nelson’s movements are by and large more angular and Fischer’s more flowing, mirroring their interpretations. Generally speaking, but not exclusively, Nelson’s is the more dramatic, Fischer’s, the more contemplative. Fischer is more formal, Nelson more familiar. At the end of the performance Fischer deliberately delays the applause for an astonishing half minute of reverent silence, then congratulates his ensemble, leads his soloists to the wings, and returns for a second bow. Nelson’s Parisians burst almost immediately into applause, which continues as the maestro moves around the stage greeting almost every participant individually. We see more hugs than at a college reunion. Yet each in his own way seems to have gotten it just right.

Arthaus’s camerawork is excellent, but fairly predictable, following the action onstage and focused usually where you want it. Soli Deo Gloria puts more emphasis on individual faces, often of musicians who are not actually singing or playing at the time. Fortunately, no one yawns.

One image haunts me, though. Why is the shortest boy in the Dutch National Children’s Choir stuck between the two tallest girls? In my fifth grade classroom I was the nine-year-old runt consigned to the back row between two enormous, or so they seemed to me, 13-year old girls. One of them tried to adopt me. My analyst, I’m sure—if I had one—would have something to say about that!

In his SDG documentary, Nelson gives us eavesdroppers many insights into this piece, which he places at the very “pinnacle of Western civilization music.” He would rather be rewarded by a tear in the eye of a listener, he says, than a laudatory review. If that’s the test, both of these fine, fine St. Matthew Passion s pass.

FANFARE: George Chien

Works on This Recording
1. Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Barbara Kozelj (Mezzo Soprano), Peter Gijsbertsen (Tenor), Mark Padmore (Tenor), Peter Harvey (Bass), Renate Arends (Soprano), Henk Neven (Baritone), Maria Espada (Soprano), Ingeborg Danz (Alto)
Conductor: Iván Fischer
Period: Baroque
Written: Circa 1727 ; Leipzig, Germany
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