Most of us come to the Saint John Passion knowing the Saint Matthew Passion first. The bigger and more elaborate Saint Matthew, which came along three, or possibly five years later (there is controversy about the date), has tended to cast a shadow in which the earlier work is swallowed up, and this has been so ever since Mendelssohn's Saint Matthew performance in 1829 marked the beginning of the public rediscovery of J.S. Bach. (The professionals had never forgotten.) But if the Saint John is smaller in scale than the Saint Matthew, it is hardly the lesser work in quality, though it would of course be silly to claim that the master of the Saint Matthew Passion had not learned from the experience of setting Saint John. But the most interesting differences between these two towering attestations of faith are differences in intention. Read Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, and John 18-19, and you get four tellings of the last days in the life of Jesus that differ in tone, emphasis, and detail…
At just 13 years old, Norwegian boy soprano Aksel Rykkvin releases his debut recording of challenging soprano arias by Bach, Handel and Mozart with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and conductor Nigel Short. A classically trained singer since the age of eight, Aksel has so far enjoyed a short but stratospheric career, lauded by critics and audiences alike for his astonishing talent, combining skilful virtuosity and a rare innate musicality with a beautifully resonant voice, unusually rich and mature.
Since its creation in 1791, Mozart’s Requiem has become one of the truly iconic works in the history of music. For this recording of the work, Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan commissioned a new performing edition. Masato Suzuki, himself a member of the BCJ and the son of Masaaki, has based his completion on Eybler’s and Süßmayr’s work, explaining his procedure in the liner notes to the disc. The recording was made at the Shoin Chapel in Kobe, where the team has previously recorded their complete cycle of Bach’s church cantatas. A stellar cast of soloists is headed by soprano Carolyn Sampson, who also shines in the famous soprano aria Laudate Dominum – one of the highlights of Vesperae solennes de confessore which conclude the disc.
There is no doubt that the forces Herrweghe has employed here are some of the best in the 'Passion' business. Aside from this, however, one cannot eliminate the fact that there are several other notable recordings of this work that stand on their own merit, which for the most part are as 'good' or as 'bad' as this one. The three that I own which includes this one(all reviewed by me on Customer reviews) are: Gardiner's 1988 recording with the outstanding Monteverdi Choir that sparkles and shines as only they can; the 1994 Cleobury King's College Choir recording, whose soloists are superb etc. etc. etc. So it all really amounts to what YOU hear and what turns YOU on!
There is certainly nothing mechanical about the present performances, of three works which in emotional content range from the joyful vitality of the Advent cantata BWV36 to the meditations upon death and the leave-taking of this world which permeate BWV27. As always the opening choruses are of particular interest, for instance that of Cantata BWV47, a striking example of Bach’s skills in illustrating a text in music but also a highly complex composition in which the interplay between choir and orchestra is beautifully balanced. The soloists also have their share of fine moments on this instalment. Hana Blažíková, dubbed ‘an ideal Bach soprano’ in International Record Review on account of her performance on the previous Cantata volume, performs the charming and playful aria ‘Auch mit gedämpften, schwachen Stimmen’ with solo violin, while Robin Blaze and Peter Kooij – both veterans of this series – each have received a true display piece in the form of the two arias of BWV27.
The appetite for evolving performance practices in Bach’s St Matthew Passion appears undiminished as we have gradually shifted, over the generations, from larger to smaller ensembles and also towards a greater dramatic understanding of the implications of Bach’s ambitious ‘stereophonic’ double choir and orchestra choreography.