Schütz: Matthaüs Passion, SWV 479

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LABELS: Dacapo
WORKS: Matthaüs Passion, SWV 479
PERFORMER: Julian Podger (Evangelist) Jacob Block Jespersen (Christ); Ars Nova Copenhagen/Paul Hillier
CATALOGUE NO: Dacapo 8.226094


Schütz’s St Matthew Passion (1666) is written wholly without accompaniment – instruments were banished from the Dresden court during Holy Week. The Passion account is sung in monody, solo lines subtly reflecting details within the text. The heaviest responsibility rests with the Evangelist, superbly done by Podger. Though he rises to moments of great dramatic oratory in places – as Judas and the armed horde approach, at the rending of the veil after Jesus’s death – most of his account is delivered in measured tone and pace. This highlights the choral contributions from the mocking and sneering crowd, four parts throwing single words and short motifs from one to the other, in the imitative style of late Renaissance motets.

Ars Nova Copenhagen’s impeccable intonation creates a vibrant sonority at moments of cadential repose. Jespersen’s Christus is deeply felt, though emotional intensity sometimes interferes with the pitching of the bleak single line – I needed a second hearing to track the exact shape of his very first utterance.
With such subtle detail in the word-setting, anyone without a working knowledge of German may miss some nuances of Schütz’s chant-like line. The booklet offers the Authorised Version as translation, beautiful language but not relating word-for-word with the original. Well recorded, in a warm acoustic, this is a worthy completion of Hillier’s collection of all six of Schütz’s narrative works. George Pratt