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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 [164:28]
Hannah Morrison, (soprano); Sophie Harmsen (alto); Tilman Lichdi, (tenor - arias & Evangelist); Peter Harvey (bass - arias); Christian Immler (bass - Jesus)
Kammerchor Stuttgart
Barockorchester Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius
rec. Evangelische Kirchengemeinde Gönningen, 10–14 March 2015
Limited deluxe edition: 3 SACDs and digibook
Also available in CD version: Carus 83.285
CARUS 83.286 [3 SACDs: 70:15 + 54:37 + 39:36]

With the sad death of Nikolaus Harnoncourt I have been listening to my favourite recording of this seminal work. Harnoncourt's star-studded 2001 set for Teldec (8573-81036-2) is packaged as a digibook as is this Carus version. That is where the similarities end. Harnoncourt offers a compelling recording with a real sense of occasion. This is combined with an enhanced third CD which presents the autograph score for those with a computer. Bernius’s recording, offering a more devotional reading, is based on the new performing edition by the acknowledged Bach expert Klaus Hofmann. This is published by Carus-Verlag, the record label's parent company.

Whilst it is well known that Bach’s original score was full of ambiguities and contradictions, I am not expert enough to know exactly what they are without following a score. Hofmann’s aim has been to study the autograph as well as the best early score and parts and to produce a performing edition that best reflects Bach’s original intentions.

As I have mentioned in my opening paragraph, I find that this Carus recording is more devotional than that of Harnoncourt. This is only fitting since the foundation of Bach’s sacred music was the Lutheran choral. It was the great German poet, Heinrich Heine, who described Luther’s choral Ein’ feste Burg as the "Marseillaise of the Reformation". First performed at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig on Good Friday, 15 April 1729 Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is his choral masterwork — one which deserves to be appreciated in both the church and the concert hall. In the past I have had the pleasure to have experienced both the Matthew’s and John’s Passions performed in both situations. The feeling that I got from the performances in church was totally different from those in the concert hall. It is that feeling that I get from this new recording, and that's despite Harnoncourt’s being recorded in a church.

The performance is excellent. I especially enjoyed the bass Christian Immler. I find his portrayal of Christ as one of the highlights of this set, of which there are many. All the soloists are in really fine form; indeed it was difficult to single anyone out. All are deserving of the highest praise. I have always regarded Frieder Bernius as one of the finest choral directors. I have a number of his recordings and he seems to know how to get the best from his forces. This recording is no different. He marshals the Kammerchor Stuttgart to produce some of the finest singing I have ever heard in this wonderful work. The Barockorchester Stuttgart also play a significant part in the set's overall success.

The SACD sound is beautifully captured, even in stereo, and it is preferable to my other recordings. The notes, which include “personal reflections on this recording” by Bernius, are also excellent. This is a most valuable and much appreciated recording.

Stuart Sillitoe



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