Bach: St Matthew Passion

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Capriccio
WORKS: St Matthew Passion
PERFORMER: Christoph Prégardien (tenor), Klaus Mertens (bass), Monika Frimmer, Veronika Winter (soprano), Lena Susanne Norin (alto)/Rheinische Kantorei, Das Kleine Konzert/Hermann Max
CATALOGUE NO: 60 046-2 DDD
Bach’s Passion settings draw upon an age-old tradition of dramatising the events leading to the crucifixion and death of Christ. Max responds with vivid drama relieved by moments of wonderfully peaceful reflection.

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Prégardien narrates unaffectedly, responding to, not overwhelmed by, the events and emotions of the moment. The antiphonal choruses, 16 voices each, generate the high tension. Their opening chorus is magnificent too, a mere four additional voices cutting through the texture with the crowning chorale.

Of a fine team of soloists, Mertens is strongly dramatic, a Jesus in control of his own fatal destiny, and Frimmer produces a heavenly sound, intimate and sometimes astonishingly boy-like.

The orchestral articulation is comforting rather than ardent and at times the recording balance conceals detail, like the scampering flutes which usually add a nervous energy to the crowd’s vicious interjections. Some passages, though, are very distinctive, especially the semi-staccato unison strings beneath chilling wind as Christ is bound and taken.

Max presses the pace with refreshingly no-nonsense chorales but there are some breathless moments, particularly the final chorus of Part I. Perhaps he has an eye on the clock in order to fit the work uncut onto two CDs.

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Pretentious, obtuse programme notes apart, this challenges, even if it does not quite displace, Gardiner’s classic 1989 recording. George Pratt