St Matthew Passion, BWV 244
Benjamin Bruns (Evangelist), Carolyn Sampson & Aki Matsui (sopranos), Damien Guillon & Clint van der Linde (altos), Makoto Sakurada & Zachary Wilder (tenors), Christian Immler & Toru Kaku (basses); Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
BIS BIS-2500 163.14 mins (2 discs)
When Masaaki Suzuki and his Bach Collegium first recorded the Matthew Passion in 1999 the idea of one or two voices to a part was still largely regarded with suspicion. Now as he revisits the work, the approach and all its implications are much more mainstream. Suzuki, however, has not been persuaded; indeed it’s fascinating how much his two recordings have in common. Many of the numbers share the same duration almost to the second (though there’s perhaps a shade more ‘lift’ in the earlier version); and the conception is broadly similar. What principally differentiates the two sets are the solo singers and, perhaps less substantially than Suzuki might have hoped, the use of a specially-constructed organ reflecting Bach’s use of the main gallery instrument rather than the sort of chamber organ ubiquitous today.
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The tread of mourning and tenderness cleaves to the opening, but despite Suzuki’s attentiveness to detail it feels a bit under-characterised; and for much of Part I the score feels more transmitted than ‘felt’. The continuity and pacing lack the dramatic sureness of a John Butt or John Eliot Gardiner. But things look up in Part II from the moment Christ is brought before Pilate; and throughout, Benjamin Bruns’s Evangelist and Christian Immler’s Christus are compelling. Carolyn Sampson floats a gloriously gravity-free ‘Aus liebe’ and Immler’s burnished ‘Kom süsses Kreuz’ is eloquently embellished with Jerôme Hantaï’s soulful gamba. If the opening chorus doesn’t quite set us up for the enormity of what is to come, what lies beyond is not without some cherishable compensations.
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