Schubert sonatas

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
St. Matthew Passion BWV 244
Nos. 1-33
Irmgard Seefried (soprano)
Hilde Rössl-Majdan (contralto)
Julius Patzak (tenor) Evangelist
Otto Wiener (baritone) Jesus
Hans Braun (bass)
Vienna Singverein/Vienna Sängerknaben
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. Vienna, April 1952
St. Matthew Passion BWV 244
Nos 1 and 8-46
Nilda Hoffmann (soprano)
Margaret Klose (contralto)
Anton Dermota (tenor) Evangelist
Angelo Mattiello (baritone) Jesus
Josef Greindl (bass)
Choir of the Teatro Colón
Orchestra of the Teatro Colón/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. Buenos Aires, April and May 1950
ARCHIPEL ARPCD 0286-2 [74.33 + 77.08]


This is not the April 1954 performance with Höffgen, Dermota, Fischer-Dieskau and Edelmann. Famous though this has become it was a broadcast survival, not a commercial set and was complete after the conductor’s fashion, which is to say there were numerous excisions – fifteen and nine semi-cuts.

What we have here are two torsos. One is so mutilated as to be unrecognisable – the execrable sounding Buenos Aires performance of 1950 (Overture, plus Nos. 8-46 only) and the other is a better recorded but very inconsistent Vienna traversal of April 1952 with Nos. 1-33 only.

There are no notes, no texts and no contexts. In Vienna we have the advantage of the reedy and very forward Vienna boys choir, the Sängerknaben, who are somewhat reminiscent of - though more focused than - Mengelberg’s boys in his famous 1939 performance in Amsterdam, which you’ll find on Naxos. Textures are however muddy and the recording quality imperfect. Furtwängler’s choral accents are emphatic and strong in the opening chorus and on the merit side the Vienna flutes are good. The conductor employs a harpsichord continuo when the recitatives are not string accompanied; in Argentina he uses a piano. And in, say, the recitative Und da sie den Lobgesang we hear a visceral response to the text through slashing violin entries.  The chorales are sung with gravity and meaningful shape. In Seefried he has a soprano soloist of comparable elevation, though even she can struggle with the breaths in Blute nur, du liebes Herz.

Demerits are many, other than the fact that the recording is subfusc and the work is a mere torso. The Evangelist, Julius Patzak, was having a very off day and he’s painful to listen to; he strains in the higher register and his pitch is awry. These things happen to even the best artists. The contralto is hard-edged and rather immobile and the Jesus, Otto Weiner, is marmoreal and Wagnerian.

The Buenos Aires performance is a write-off. The sound is truly terrible, the chorus sings in Spanish and the first bars of the first chorus are missing. Of the singers, by one of those unpleasant ironies, Dermota - who sang in the 1954 performance - is on hand and is a mellifluous and impressive presence, far superior to Patzak. Angelo Mattiello’s Jesus is superior to Otto Wiener in Vienna and Klose likewise to Rössl-Majdan. Hoffmann sings well but is not quite Seefried’s equal.

The only constituency for this will be Furtwängler completists who require every drop of his rare Bach. Others should invest in the 1954 performance.

Jonathan Woolf


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