Bach: St Matthew Passion

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: St Matthew Passion
PERFORMER: Nico van der Meel (tenor), Kristinn Sigmundsson (bass); St Bavo, Haarlem, Boys Choir, Netherlands Chamber Choir, Orchestra of the 18th Century/Frans Brüggen
CATALOGUE NO: 454 434-2
Here are two live performances of Bach’s ‘great Passion’, both recorded at Utrecht’s Muziekcentrum Vredenburg – Brüggen’s in 1996, van Veldhoven’s in 1997. A few performers appear on both discs and several of van Veldhoven’s team, including himself, feature on Koopman’s 1993 Erato recording. In terms of temperament he hews closer to Koopman’s expansiveness than does Brüggen, and this is a significant difference in their views of Bach.

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Brüggen’s set has the cleaner sound, sturdy choruses and a pair of excellent tenor soloists. Yet his cool, sombre approach misses much of the music’s power and his soprano and alto soloists can sound characterless. Van Veldhoven’s set has a soft-grained sound, intimate if a touch amorphous at times, a compelling Evangelist (Gerd Türk) and outstanding soloists in Andreas Scholl and Johannette Zomer. Unusually, he employs organ and harpsichord (rather than two organs) in his double orchestra.

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What gives van Veldhoven the edge is his ability to elicit a rich expressive palette from his performers, especially in the series of magnificent arias that constitute the St Matthew Passion’s emotional and aesthetic backbone. Graham Lock