Here is a reissue of Baroque specialist, Ton Koopman's,
recording from over twenty years ago of the Matthew Passion
Also available on Erato 673616 (alternatively 5046
or 2292-45814-2) as part of the set which includes the B
Minor Mass, it's one of two in the current catalogue by Koopman; the
other is more recent (2006), on Challenge 72232.
This is vintage, classic Koopman: Tempi
that never linger, orchestral
textures that accord privilege to clarity and insight over effect and
superb, beautifully articulated, solo vocal lines. Koopman's lucidity
might appear a little too detached or cool for some listeners who are
used to responding to the emotional charge of Bach's Passions. One of
Koopman's greatest strengths is his grasp of architecture: of the unfolding
of the passion events; of the relative roles and interactions of the
soloists and 'crowds'; of the inevitability of events in a musical -
as opposed to a Biblical - sense.
A logical consequence of this is a performance that's neither perfunctory
nor devoid of emotion. It knows where it's going. It bases one event
on foreknowledge of what happens next. As a result there is a certain
businesslike feel though it’s never perfunctory.
This might have been just what Bach intended. It was probably how the
work was performed in the composer's lifetime. The congregation knew
the story intimately. They appreciated the import of each development.
The Matthew Passion
is not an opera. Based on the premise that
Christ's sacrifice was to the good and his suffering unavoidable, Koopman's
account seems to be aiming for a removal of the lugubrious. While not
joyful, its tone and tenor are almost celebratory and affirmative. The
positive sentiment with which such numbers as "Ich will bei meinem Jesu
wachen" [CD 1 tr.28] are performed is wholly appropriate.
Koopman does not emphasise the pared down nature of a HIP (authentic)
performance in the way that the recent recording by Butt and the Dunedin
Consort (Linn CKD 313) does - although the latter is hardly 'faceless'
or 'cold'. The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra is not a period instrument
ensemble, after all.
One will be struck immediately by the presence, the persuasiveness,
the expressive qualities of the vocal soloists: soprano Barbara Schlick
is full of 'radiance' as she commands a studied ability to employ restraint.
Tenor Guy de Mey makes an excellent and dignified Evangelist with every
bit as much gravitas
as bass Peter Kooy's Christus. Counter-tenor
Kai Wessel, tenor Christoph Prégardien and bass Klaus Mertens
all distinguished themselves on Koopman's superb cycle of Bach cantatas.
In all cases there is a pleasing balance between the judiciously dramatic
and the penetratingly expositional. There’s nothing over-declamatory
or superfluously rhetorical even at the great moments such as "Erbarme
Dich" [CD 2 tr.15] and "Komm seußes Kreuz" [CD 3 tr.14].
Like the singers, the instrumental soloists are successful in removing
any unwelcome emphasis on 'interpretation'. Indeed Koopman's entire
conception is directed towards 'neutral' music-making. For those familiar
with Koopman's splendid cycle of Bach cantatas on Challenge, the tightness
and cleanness of the choruses and other more expansive numbers will
come as no surprise. The sequence, "So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen",
"Sind Blitze, sind Donner in Wolken verschwunden", "Und siehe, einer
aus denen" [CD 1 trs. 35, 36, 37], for example, is pithy, distinctive
and full of impact. There isn't the spitting pungency of more dramatic
performances. Indeed, Koopman makes his impact by contrast: the staccato
passages are all the more shocking as Christ is captured because of
the lambent, controlled, gentler lines which surround them. Again, Koopman
relies on context and contrast to arrive at an almost magical effect.
The acoustic is just right. There is the right degree of responsiveness
- the right resonance. There’s also an excellent emphasis on the
soloists: every word is audible and every note counts. As with Koopman's
other set on Challenge, some may even feel that the vocal soloists are
too loud relative to the ensemble and orchestra. The result is a personal,
forward and intimate Matthew Passion
, which is well worth a listen
- even in a crowded field of almost ninety recordings.
The physical booklet that is distributed with the three-CD set is minimal;
it has little more than a plain list of the performers and tracks. It
suggests that something fuller (the texts at least) can be found at
; that is not the case. On the other hand, this
set is available at an amazingly low price. Its pedigree is of greater
consideration than its age: Koopman's earlier Matthew Passion
remains a treasure.