RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
What really makes this special is its emotional integrity, coming not from affected theatricality but from a pervading air of profound sadness
Lindsay Kemp is moved by John Eliot Gardiner’s new Bach St Matthew Passion,
a live recording that draws gloriously on the conductor’s rich experience
JS Bach St Matthew Passion, BWV244 James Gilchrist ten Evangelist Stephan Loges bass Christus Hannah Morrison, Zoë Brookshaw, Charlotte Ashley sops Eleanor Minney contr Reginald Mobley counterten Hugo Hymas ten Ashley Riches, Alex Ashworth, Jonathan Sells basses Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists / Sir John Eliot Gardiner SDG M b SDG725 (161’ • DDD • T/t) Recorded live at Pisa Cathedral, September 22, 2016
As has often been the case since his Bach Pilgrimage of 2000, the John Eliot Gardiner of this new, second recording of the St Matthew Passion is a changed conductor from that of the first. That was a studio version for DG (10/89), made when Gardiner was their Bach man enjoying the benefits of studio time and big-name soloists including Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Barbara Bonney and Anne Sofie von Otter; it was a state-of-the-art product but today can sound a little brisk and uninvolved in that 1980s way, particularly with regard to the shaping of the words. The new recording for the Monteverdi Choir’s own label is a live concert recording, with all the soloists except the Evangelist and Christus drawn from the ranks of the chorus. The live format is not so
John Eliot Gardiner draws exquisite playing and singing from his musicians unusual in these economic times but choir soloists do seem to be dear to Gardiner for purely musical considerations, to judge from his use of them in several post-Pilgrimage projects. There is no doubt, however, that both elements pay off here.
The recording was made in Pisa Cathedral last September, but its foundations were laid over the previous six months in a 15-city tour which included a memorable performance in Brussels the day after the terror attacks there.
The experience seems to have drawn the musicians together and intensified their commitment. If a Passion performance has no sense of community it has nothing, and this is surely the making of Gardiner’s account. This is a memorable and moving St Matthew, and for all the right reasons.
Musically it is very fine. The choir are excellent, of course, with a solid but clear and intimate sound even in the larger choruses, no end of expressive means in the chorales, and a PHO T O G R A P H Y
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10 GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2017
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