Bach: St Matthew Passion; St John Passion

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: Bach – Choral
WORKS: St Matthew Passion; St John Passion
PERFORMER: Choirs & Orchestra, Fritz Werner
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 614032
These 10 discs form the second

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instalment from Fritz Werner,

champion of Bach on record from

1957 to 1972. Many of my earlier

comments (see January) hold good

– a single leap back over 30-40 years

exaggerates the impact of changed

attitudes to tempo, articulation and

instrumental/vocal sound quality.

Some of the earliest recordings creak

with age, notably the 1958 B minor

Mass in mono, its Gloria laboured,

the horn in ‘Quoniam’ like a Salvation

Army flugel on a cold night, and the

total up to half an hour longer than we

expect nowadays. Yet even here there

are delights – the beautifully matched

sopranos of Ingerborg Reichelt and

Elizabeth Fellner, and Helmut Krebs’s

fine tenor. He is Evangelist in the

Passions with a clear sense of their

dramatic impetus, helped by a wide

stereo ‘stage’ and by the Heinrich

Schütz Choir’s lively ‘crowd’ choruses.

Their chorales, too, are impressive

– stately but never sanctimonious.

Some pearls are timeless: in the

St John Passion, soprano Frederike

Sailer in ‘Ich folge…’; in the Christmas

Oratorio, bass Barry McDaniel

with Maurice André’s impeccable

trumpet in ‘Grosser Herr…’; Agnes

Giebel’s witty dialogue with echo

and oboe in ‘Flosst mein Heiland’.

The six motets fare particularly

well, with fresh choral lines and bass

etched with continuo support.

Discs are numbered differently

from their listing in the notes

and all texts need downloading

from the internet. Remastered

sound is commendable

considering some of its age.

These won Grands Prix du

Disque in their time. It is our taste

and technological expectations

which have changed, not the

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performances. George Pratt