JS Bach: St Matthew Passion

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: AAM Records
WORKS: St Matthew Passion
PERFORMER: James Gilchrist, Matthew Rose, Ashley Riches, Elizabeth Watts, Sarah Connolly, Thomas Hobbs, Christopher Maltman; Choir of the AAM; Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr
CATALOGUE NO: AAM 004

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Richard Egarr has boldly chosen to record Bach’s first, 1727, version of the Passion, far less familiar than the 1736 revision – and not, he asserts, ‘work in progress. It is different’. The differences alone would make it a ‘must hear’ recording, even if it were less admirably performed. Some are simple omissions – no weighty ‘O Mensch, bewein’ chorus ending Part I, but a simple chorale instead. Other differences are in the scoring: the climactic long-note chorale phrases of the opening chorus are less uplifting on wind and organ than with Bach’s inspired second thought – treble voices soaring above the mighty eight-part chorus. Lute obbligato is disappointingly fragile, compared with later gamba, in ‘Komm, süsses Kreuz’.

The absence of sighing appoggiaturas is very striking. In the curiously coloured aria/chorus ‘So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen’, flutes and oboes play ‘straight’ without the constant leaning on alternate beats which characterises the later version. (So did Bach assume we would add appoggiaturas – and confirm this in 1736 – or is today’s ‘historically informed’ convention of adding them freely simply wrong?) Egarr ‘encouraged all the [performers] to take risks with timing…’ Often, this evokes slight but telling nuances. But in the first aria, ‘Buss und Reu’, the duetting flutes add a full quaver to the recurring tied notes – Bach stumbles and almost falls as, with repentant tears, he approaches Jesus.

Singing and playing are highly polished and assured throughout, with James Gilchrist superb as the Evangelist, and Matthew Rose a credible if rather forceful Jesus.

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George Pratt