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Bach: St Matthew Passion

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0


JS Bach
St Matthew Passion
Gerd Türk (tenor), Peter Kooy (bass), Nancy Argenta (soprano), Robin Blaze (countertenor), Makoto Sakurada (tenor), Chiyuki Urano (bass); Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
BIS Records CD-1000-02

Masaaki Suzuki brings to the St Matthew Passion the same devotional intensity that has characterised his Bach cantata recordings. This focus is immediately evident in the opening chorus/chorale, which he imbues with compelling power despite opting to use relatively small vocal and orchestral forces throughout. It is evident, too, in Bach Collegium Japan’s impeccable performances, which bespeak a score explored in meticulous detail and with profound affection.

There is certainly much to admire here: fierce turbas, gentle chorales, exemplary instrumental solos. The vocal soloists are generally strong, with bass Chiyuki Urano and Gerd Türk’s lyrical, spirited Evangelist outstanding. I’m less sure about Robin Blaze: I can’t fault his technique, yet his light countertenor voice sounds too ethereal, too innocent, for the despairing entreaties of ‘Erbarme dich’. I was also disconcerted by two later alto arias, ‘Können Tränen’ and ‘Sehet, Jesus hat die Hand’, where Suzuki’s quick, tripping tempi seem to go against the grain of the poetry. Still, most tempi are well-chosen, even if the recitatives lack Gardiner’s frisson.

Gardiner remains my benchmark recording, not only for the dramatic edge he brings to the Biblical scenes, but also because his soloists so vividly enact the human passions portrayed in arias such as ‘Erbarme dich’ and ‘Mache dich’. Much as I respect Suzuki’s devout, graceful interpretation, it is the ability of Gardiner and his team to pierce to the heart that makes theirs the more gripping, and moving, account of Bach’s great Passion.

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Graham Lock