Perhaps it is because it stands chronologically first in my own life that the Matthäus-Passion stands first in my heart. It is conventional wisdom to prefer the Mass in B minor, an artificial composition, a catholic text by a Lutheran composer, over the more real, though not precisely traditional passions of Bach. I sang all of these Bach pieces myself, both chorus and alto solo, at one time or another, but none ever went so deep as the Matthew Passion.
The Matthew Passion is a huge work that to make sense in performance needs to be gotten through with a certain amount of pace. Nikolaus Harnoncourt understands this. He seems to have conceived it as a whole. Excellent. This is also one of the 100 greatest recordings from Gramophone.
I see that Dorothea Röschmann, the countess of last week's Figaro, is the Soprano II here. Christine Schäfer, whom I saw in recital in SF, is the Soprano I. Oliver Widmer is the bass II. Matthias Goerne sings Jesus. He is the one who tours singing Lieder cycles--I've seen one of these, Schubert's Winterreise--and he's quite good. Bernarda Fink is the alto.
It is very good indeed. One hesitates to write about it, because with Bach one wishes only for the truth to shine through, and for mere mortals to stand out of the way.
This performance is a unique personal vision. We could feel ourselves sitting in a pew in the Thomas Kirche and hearing this performance. "Here we sit with tears flowing down and call to you in the grave: 'Rest softly.'"
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