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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Matthäus-Passion, BWV 244 (c. 1742)
Werner Güra (Evangelist); Benoit Arnould (Jesus); Dorothee Mields (soprano I); Aleksandra Lewandowska (soprano II); Alex Potter (alto I); Maxine Fribourg (alto II); Thomas Hobbs (tenor); Matthew Brook (bass II)
Gli Angeli Genève/Stephan MacLeod (bass I)
rec. 2019, Studio Ernest Ansermet, Geneva, Switzerland
CLAVES CD3012/13 [79:06 + 80:58]

This is obviously just the time for a Matthäus-Passion; but perhaps the timing of this release is unfortunate as it comes head-to-head with Masaaki Suzuki’s magnificent re-recording of the score on BIS (review). This Resonus recording also only includes the text in German with French translation (so, no English offered).

That said, Gli Angeli Genève under Stephan MacLeod have much to offer. The first chorus is incredibly variegated, from high drama to dancing rhythms against a chorale cantus firmus. Wener Güra is a light but firm Evangelist. Speeds are on the whole quite rapid (the counter-tenor aria ‘Buß und Reu’ a case in point, Alex Potter nice and agile, the two flutes in perfect accord); the sense of flow works best when one has a soloist of angel-white purity such as Aleksandra Lewandowska in ‘Blute nur,’ or Dorothee Mields in ‘Ich will dir mein Herz schenken’ (who is also superb in the astonishingly scored recitative ‘Ich hat uns wohlgetan’ and the equally progressive ensuing aria, ‘Aus Liebe will mein Heliand sterben’).

The care with which MacLeod has fashioned the instrumental contribution is one of the strongest points of this recording, and his strength is in realising the drama inherent in Bach’s score (try the chorus ‘Sind Blitze, und Donner in Wolken verschwunden’ towards the end of the first part). The rhythmic spring to the bass aria ‘Gibt mir meinen Jesum wider!’ is perfectly judged, as is the combination of rhythm and dissonance to create just the right affect in the bass aria ‘Mache dich, mein Herze, rein’.

The Evangelist is Werner Güra, a singer highly experienced in this role (he excels in the Harmonia Mundi René Jacobs and in the John Nelson Euroarts DVD performances also). Strong yet expressive, this is clearly a lived-in role delivered with great confidence. Sadly, Matthew Brook (bass II) is rather unsteady of pitch, over-vibratoed in his ‘Gerne will ich mich bequemen’. He is in the minority amongst the soloists, who are otherwise excellent. Tenor Thomas Hobbs joins forces with excellent viola da gamba player Romina Lischka in ‘Geduld!’ while Eva Saladin is a fine violin obbligato in the counter-tenor ‘Erbarme mich’ (Alex Potter again on top form, his tuning spot-on throughout).

The chorales have a clean yet sanctified aspect to them; this might be one of the lighter St Matthew Passions in texture, but underpinning this is a respect for both religious intent and the music itself.

The recording followed five performances in Switzerland. For the recording, the musicians, both choir and orchestra, are in a circle (it is pictured in the booklet) which enables maximal eye contact and awareness of what is happening at any point. There is much to recommend this performance, but it is too uneven to dislodge more cherished library recordings; and certainly the new Suzuki is in a completely different league. The recording quality itself is good, but again the Suzuki is far finer.

Colin Clarke

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