RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
‘With its glowing inner vitality, this makes a very definite statement about what this work can communicate in our times’
Jonathan Freeman-Attwood applauds one of the most vocally accomplished St Matthew Passions on record courtesy of Raphaël Pichon’s prime musicians and glowing dramatic
JS Bach St Matthew Passion, BWV244 Julian Prégardien ten Evangelist Stéphane Degout bass Christus Hana Blažíková, Sabine Devieilhe sops Lucile Richardot mez Tim Mead counterten Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Reinoud Van Mechelen tens Christian Immler bar Maîtrise de Radio France; Pygmalion / Raphaël Pichon Harmonia Mundi M c HMM90 2691/3 (161’ • DDD • T/t)
Having recently tasted Pygmalion’s ravishing performances of two Bach cantatas for solo soprano with Sabine Devieilhe (Erato, 12/21), I sensed – especially in Cantata No 199, Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut – signs that Raphaël Pichon is embarking on a singularly original Bachian journey. Starting from the richly resonant core to his ensemble, irresistibly perceptive and elegant solutions were imagined in textual coloration, instrumental balance and rhetorical shaping, with astringency avoided at every turn. If you suspect that the leap to the St Matthew Passion might be over a gulf too wide, you can be reassured.
From the outset the listener is under no illusions that Pichon is ambitious for shining revelation. Pygmalion are primed. The opening chorus throws wide its doors with a tantalising blend of circumspection and purpose: we are invited to witness this metaphoric wedding procession in a luminous choreography of past and present protagonists – Jesus’s time and ours (and include Bach’s in that). Humanity is under scrutiny but without the overtones of lofty Lutheran theology; as Pichon explains in a fascinating interview, the guiding principle is the prologue and five theatrical ‘acts’ of the tragédie lyrique, with its clearly defined ‘stages’. If this also implies recognisably French reflexes towards a particular kind of aesthetic refinement, they never dominate Pichon’s predominantly eclectic and personal approach.
More immediately telling is how the spacious recorded sound of the Salle Pierre Boulez in Paris encourages infinite layers of human and musical interaction in each part. As a kind of commentary, early mention must be made of a basso continuo strategy of telling sophistication, ranging from deft and decisive theorbo contributions to an organ that takes a far more critical role in characterising recitatives than I can ever recall. If occasionally intrusive, bold realisations emphasise the personal and devotional asides that the Evangelist must convey alongside his reportage, as well as creating a sensational regal glow around PHO T O G R A P H Y
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10 GRAMOPHONE GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2022