René Jacobs: JS Bach St Matthew Passion

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach: St Matthew Passion
WORKS: St Matthew Passion
PERFORMER: Sunhae Im, Christina Roterberg, Bernada Fink, Marie-Claude Chappuis, Werner Güre, Topi Lehtipuu, Fabio Trümpy, Johannes Weisser, Konstantin Wolff, Arttu Kataja; RIAS Kammerchor; Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/ René Jacobs


With René Jacobs it’s always prudent to expect the unexpected, and this new Matthew Passion doesn’t disappoint. Jacobs rejects the traditional ‘left-right’ stereo disposition of the two choirs and orchestras. Instead, he explores Konrad Küster’s theory that Bach intended to consign a small choir and orchestra to the gallery perched high above the entrance to the chancel of the Thomaskirche, and larger forces in the west end gallery – the latter telling the Gospel narrative while the distant musicians offered comment and reflection. The ‘spacialisation’ is therefore front-back, high-low, large-small and the carefully layered SACD recording comes into its own. Although Jacobs isn’t aiming for authenticity, the results are as ear-opening as John Butt’s recent CD putting the St John Passion in a liturgical context.

Jacobs brings theatrical flair which takes nothing for granted – from the ever-changing continuo palette underscoring the recitatives, to the inclusion of the lute version of ‘Komm susses Kreuz’. Headed by Werner Güra’s dynamic Evangelist and Bernarda Fink’s beautifully coloured ‘Erbarme dich’, the solo singing is compelling throughout. The crowd scenes are bloodcurdling, the playing revelatory; only Jacobs’s urgency sometimes gets the better of him, torpedoing music (such as the final chorus) that would benefit from a little more room to breath. A major addition to the catalogue nonetheless.


Paul Riley