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Brilliant Records

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)
St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244 (1727)
Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor) Evangelist
Michael George (bass) Jesus
Emma Kirkby (soprano)
Michael Chance (alto)
Martyn Hill (tenor)
David Thomas (bass)
Choirs of King’s and Jesus Colleges Cambridge
The Brandenburg Consort/Stephen Cleobury.
recorded in King’s College Chapel, directed by Ferenc van Damme and Dirk-Jan Bijker, other recording details unknown.

When is a budget product a bargain?? In the world of CDs this is relatively easy to ascertain, but in the world of DVD there are so few cheap products that the position is not so clear. This issue can be purchased for around £8.00 which, in DVD classical music terms, is a real saving on the full price issues.

There are no notes, no supporting information, merely the text in German, and this in itself would not be a major problem for me, as I have other documentation available for this masterpiece. I suspect that, for the same reason, most collectors may not find this a problem.

What I cannot abide however is that this performance is severely cut (it runs for 165 minutes as compared with about 200 minutes for other versions). Thus you are already short-changed with the music. The performance would seem to be from the same stable as Brilliant Classics’ CD Bach Edition, also available at budget price on CD. However I have not heard this to ascertain whether the cuts are the same.

The conducting style of Stephen Cleobury is most distracting. Throughout the performance he seems to be pivoting from the waist, and both hands are mirror images of each other.

So are there any good things about this issue? Well, ‘yes’. The visual images are first class given the location of the performance. Given the outline of heads in the first rows in front of the orchestra, I am lead to believe that this performance was recorded at a live event, although there is no audio evidence of an audience.

Also, the orchestral performance from the Brandenburg Consort (on period instruments) is first class and there are absolutely no qualms about this. The choral singing is also well up to King’s standard with their choir shouldering most of the work (Jesus College Choir is there for the soprano ripieno parts only). However once we reach the Chorale "Surely, surely this was the son of God" Cleobury’s perfunctory conducting makes this usually most moving of passages mundane; a great pity.

We have an excellent Evangelist in Rogers Covey-Crump, but Michael George, as Jesus, is often wayward in both diction and pitch. The remainder of the soloists are excellent; particular mention for Emma Kirkby for her wonderful solos.

One final moan. My copy of the DVD stopped playing at item 27 and no juggling with the advance button would fix it – check before you buy, if you must.

John Phillips



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