> BACH St Matthew passion Brilliant DVD [KM]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
St Matthew Passion
King's College Choir
Jesus College Choir
Rogers Covey-Crump, tenor (evangelist)
Michael George, bass (Jesus)
Emma Kirkby, soprano
Michael Chance, alto
Martyn Hill, tenor
David Thomas, bass
Brandenburg Consort, Roy Goodman
Direction: Stephen Cleobury
Rec: 1994, King's College Chapel.


Crotchet £9.99


Bach's St Matthew Passion has often been called the greatest western musical work ever written. Don't expect this reviewer to disagree - it never fails to move me, and to delight me by its beautiful and often painful melodies. First performed on Good Friday 1727, it is Bach's most complex vocal work, calling for two choirs and two orchestras, and containing some of his most demanding arias. Performed often, since Felix Mendelssohn "rediscovered" it in 1829 (performing a partial version of the work), the St Matthew Passion was largely responsible for the Bach revival of the 19th century. The work itself follows the text of the Passion according to St Matthew, in a series of choral movements, arias and recitatives. This is a long work - usually running around 2.30 to 3 hours, depending on the tempi chosen, which can be very tiring to perform, especially for the soloists, who are up against some difficult challenges in the arias.

The market is full of great recordings of the St Matthew Passion, from classics by Richter and Leonhardt, to more recent recordings, such as the second version recently released by both Herreweghe and Harnoncourt, as well as the recording by Suzuki, but filmed versions are few. This DVD shows the work being performed in the beautiful King’s College Chapel.

Evangelist Rogers Covey-Crump is not totally convincing - it is difficult to measure up to the benchmark of the magnificent Peter Schreier, who is undoubtedly the perfect voice for the part (or, at least, whose voice has become more or less identified with it). His diction sounds a bit unsteady, and his voice seems just a bit too laid back for this central part. Alto Michael Chance has a fine voice, but uses a bit too much vibrato at times, which tends to distract from the melody, calling attention to itself. Yet his vibrato is unequal - at times it is intrusive and other times (even within the same aria) it is subtle.

Curiously, Emma Kirkby, who does not often overuse vibrato, does so here. Her voice is wonderful, as usual, but one may question this vibrato that tends to stand out. However, in the heart-rending aria Erbame dich for soprano and violin obbligato, she is more restrained, and is truly magnificent. Yet it is hard to compare her version to the near-perfect performance by René Jacobs on the Gustav Leonhardt recording of 1989, or Robin Blaze's crystalline performance on the Maasaki Suzuki recording. (Or even alto Michael Chance, present on this recording, who was acclaimed for his performance of this aria in the recent recording by John Eliot Gardiner.)

Regarding the sound of the recording some comments must be made. The soloists are spread out across the space, which can be a bit disconcerting, especially when camera angles change. There is also something wrong with the balance. One hears the choir spread out across the soundscape at times, but the orchestra is leaning to the right, as is the choir at certain times. (This could be a problem with my listening to it in Dolby 2.0 format; Dolby 5.1 is also available, but I do not have the equipment to reproduce that type of sound. When choosing the 5.1 setting on my equipment, nothing changes.) There is also a very clear hiss at the beginning of each section, which is a bit annoying.

Unlike the CD recording of this work, the DVD suffers from sound problems that make it unacceptable. The unbalanced sound of the orchestra and choir is far too distracting for this to be enjoyable.
Kirk McElhearn

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