Bach: St. Matthew Passion (Audio CD),10 April, 2001|
List price $34.98
A Sublime Acquired Taste / 5
There's nothing at all humble me can say to the connoisseur about this composition that's not a repetition of a repetition. To the newcomer, though, some words of advice:
This is rightly considered one of, if not the best, of Bach's works. To the total newbie, Bach is rightly considered not one, but the best, of western composers. If you read my review you'll probably see why it's not a good idea to start your inquiry into Bach with this particular performance. In fact, I would recommend you start with another work, the St. John Passion, which is what I started with (if you want my advice, take the Koopman version, but I believe I'm in a minority here).
Concerning this performance:
There's a silly argument going on in the musicological world regarding the "proper" way to perform Bach's music, of which the St. Matthew Passion is a popular object.
I was fortunate to have as a teacher of Harmony and Counterpoint one Erez Rapaport, who has greatly impressed me with his hate of theory and his uncompromising demand that every decision, in composition as well as performance, be made based on what sounds best.
Arguing about what is the "real" Bach is pointless since the man is long dead. Any criticism on a performance of his work must therefore be based not on whether it conforms to some doctrine or another, but solely on how it sounds.
And this one sounds wonderful. Of course, it does take some getting used to, partly because of the slowness, the loudness and the sheer size of the performing forces, but mostly because it just takes a fair amount of time and attention to fully appreciate such an edifice of perfection. Every movement, be it chorus, recitative, arioso, aria or choral is given such minute attention, performed with such incredible skill, and played out to such dramatic extremes that it is simply more than one can take in in a first listening.
As opposed to many other lovers of this version, I haven't a word of criticism against the "historically informed" performances (which this performance was considered to be in its time - I wonder what future musicologists will think of the current holders of the title), but a person who cannot enjoy this performance, I am lead to conclude, is more in love with theory than she is with music.
First, this is an old recording, and therefore it is somewhat lacking. Nothing that interferes with the music, but a background hiss is audible.
Second, because of its slowness, this version of Bach's masterpiece is much longer than the others. This, of course, is of secondary importance to artistic merit, but if choosing between two versions of equal merit, doesn't the fact that the pleasure lasts longer make this performance preferable?
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