Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672)
Matthäus-Passion, SWV 479 (1666) [54:42]
Julian Podger (tenor)
Jacob Bloch Jespersen (bass)
Ars Nova Copenhagen/Paul Hillier
rec. Garnisonskirken, Copenhagen, 5-8 April 2010. DDD
DACAPO 8.226094 [54:42] 

This is the last of four CDs on Dacapo by Ars Nova Copenhagen under Paul Hillier devoted to the 'narrative' choral works of Heinrich Schütz. Previous volumes were reviewed here and here.
 
Schütz's setting of St Matthew - or to give it his full title, Das Leiden unsers Herren Jesu Christi, wie es beschreibet der heilige Evangeliste Matthaeus - is never going to have the same broad appeal as Bach's. For all his Lutheranism, Bach's music, partly as a product of his times, was much less austere than that of Schütz. With this Passion, Schütz's music becomes almost monastic in its self-discipline: the only polyphony - musical 'excitement', as it were - comes from the occasional, but frequently powerful interjections by various grouped parts. One can hear this, in particular, in the Multitude and the Jews in later sections, and the 'congregation' in the poignant Kyrie eleison right at the very conclusion.
 
By contrast, both the Evangelist's and especially Christ's parts are almost ascetic - pared down to discreetly inflected, sober recitative. Moreover, because so much of the music in the Passion is sung by these two roles, the extent to which anyone enjoys any given performance is likely to depend a great deal on one's opinion of the voices of Jesus and the Evangelist. In this recording, that means English tenor Julian Podger as the latter and Danish bass Jacob Bloch Jespersen as Jesus. There is always an element of risk in assigning key roles to non-native speakers of the language of a text, but it is hard to imagine any objections to Podger, whose clear, expressive voice should please all agnostics, and whose German upbringing has given him a faultless accent.
 
But Jespersen is another matter: in longer passages - of which there are many - his voice has just a little of the quality of someone with a head cold, and his Jesus can come across as a trifle dour. Furthermore, his German pronunciation, though certainly very good, does contain a few slips which give Jesus a bit of a foreign accent at times - perhaps enough of one to grate mildly on German speakers.
 
At one point Jespersen's mispronunciation makes a grammatical error: where he sings "Stehet auf, lass uns gehen" - plural command form followed by singular - instead of "Stehet auf, lasst uns gehen" halfway through Track 3. There are a few minor typing errors anyway in both languages of the text of the Gospel - thoughtfully included in the booklet - as well as some inconsequential differences between the German text as published and the one used by the singers. In Track 3, Jesus sings: "Mein Vater, ist es nicht möglich ...", but the 'nicht' is not present in the text.
 
The CD booklet is otherwise excellent. Apart from the full text, there are two fine essays on the music and detailed biographies of performers - 34 pages of print in total.
 
The recording is almost superb - the nowadays ubiquitous rumble of road traffic only occasionally and very faintly intrudes upon the beautiful voices of Ars Nova Copenhagen floating in the lovely acoustic of the Garnison Church.
 
Byzantion
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
 
The beautiful voices of Ars Nova Copenhagen float in the lovely acoustic of the Garnison Church.