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Bach: St Matthew Passion / McCreesh, Gabrieli Consort

Album Summary

>Bach, Johann Sebastian : Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244
Performers Conductor Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

For his recording of St. Matthew Passion, Paul McCreesh is taking a radical yet convincing approach. Following the path he began with his previous Bach project (Magnificat and Easter Oratorio), he uses very limited forces - just eight singers, no chorus as such, and two chamber-size orchestras. One of the main reasons that this approach works is the line-up of singers, each an outstanding soloist and a remarkable consort singer.

Gramophone Classical Music Guide
In the distinguished performance history of the Great Passion, this is a dynamic and powerful reading. What we have here, primarily, is a compelling directorial vision, a dramatically cohesive whole. The only 'controversial' aspect is the use of single voices in the chorus, thereby applying the research presented in the last two decades by Joshua Rifkin and Andrew Parrott.

However, as it happens, Paul McCreesh sees this option as a flexible way of enhancing the rich expressive possibilities of the St Matthew, a means to a somewhat greater end, thankfully, than joining the band of zealots who seek world domination in Bach vocal performance. And there can be no denying that McCreesh uses the single voices to great and encouraging effect.

The warm intimacy of expression in the chorales is often spellbinding, the lucid realism of the madrigalian commentaries touchingly palpable and the crowd scenes almost crazed, as if you were among the mob. McCreesh's pragmatism also ensures that his quality singers produce a rich tonal body rather than a pushed, squawking consort.

There's some outstandingly characterised singing to be heard here, and a few missed opportunities too. Deborah York sounds somewhat al dente in her soprano arias, a limited emotional range partly accentuated by the colour and subtlety of expression of Magdalena KoOená's 'Buss und Reu' as well as the enraptured and troubled 'Ach, nun ist mein Jesus hin!'. Mark Padmore's Evangelist is highly charged and responsive: at times he hovers, regaling the facts of the matter with disarming poise; at others he becomes agitated, even manic. He seems somehow implicated in Peter's denial in a tableau performed with quite remarkable dramatic power, setting up KoOená's 'Erbarme dich'. Hers is one of the most painfully beautiful performances in years, even if the violin obbligato bulges rather too much.

Of the two basses, the Christus of Peter Harvey conveys neither gilded halo nor testosterone- fired ruddiness but he remains an effective and constant companion. Stephan Loges is rhetorically imploring in timbre, unafraid to take risks and a singer you listen to attentively.

There's yet to be a clear leader in St Matthew Passion recordings, even if that were desirable.

The quality of the production is mainly firstrate, though there are the usual dips and troughs you expect from such a challenging undertaking. 'Können Tränen' is a scrappy and flat affair with a strangely below-par Susan Bickley, and the strings aren't always universally impressive.

Overall, if not as culturally resonant as Harnoncourt's remarkably mature and poetic reading, McCreesh's interpretation has an unremitting singularity of purpose, as aesthetically Protestant as Harnoncourt's is Catholic. A memorable and vitally conceived account.

Penguin Guide
Though Paul McCreesh uses minimum forces for Bach's masterpiece, with one voice per part, the result has the sharpest dramatic impact, thanks not only to the incisiveness of the performance but also to the vivid immediacy of the recorded sound.


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Works Details

>Bach, Johann Sebastian : Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244
  • Performers: Susan Bickley (Mezzo Soprano); James Gilchrist (Tenor); Julia Gooding (Soprano); Peter Harvey (Bass Baritone); Magdalena Kozená (Voice); Stephan Loges (Baritone); Mark Padmore; Doborah York
  • Conductor: Paul McCreesh
  • Ensemble: Gabrieli Players
  • Running Time: 148 min. 14 sec.
  • Period Time: Baroque
  • Written: 1736