Can someone recommend a good box set, sung in German and with the full libretto?
Can someone recommend a good box set, sung in German and with the full libretto?
Annie, The one I have is the Klemperer recording. It is done with large orchestral and choral forces and has probable the slowest tempo of any. Some think it too slow but to me it is reverential and stately. Its major plus in my mind is its stellar casting: Peter Pears, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda, Walter Berry, Wilfred Broewn, John Carol Case, Geraint Evans, Otakar Kraus and Helen Watts. There are a number of versions with smaller forces, and you may prefer that and lighter tempos. One which I have not heard but has deawn good recommendations is The Ricardo Chailly on Decca. It is a more dramatic interpretation and has the advantage of being on only two discs. But it main attractions are the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Leipzig St. Thomas Church Choir, the Tölz Boys Choir and Thomas Quasthoff. I am getting tempted myself.
Of course I won't know the tempo until it starts so that's not really a factor at the moment. I know I'll enjoy it so much more if I can get some of it in my memory before I go.
Last Tuesday 3rd April I attended a performance of St Matthew Passion held in King's College Chapel, Cambridge. I'm familiar with it but had never seen it live.
King's College Choir
Choristers of Jesus & St Catherine's Colleges
Academy of Ancient Music
Stephen Cleobury conductor
James Gilchrist Evangelist
David Wilson-Johnson Christus
Richard Lloyd Morgan Pilate
Sophie Bevan soprano
James Laing counter-tenor
Thomas Walker tenor
Lukas Jakobski bass
This isn't a critique, just some thoughts & observations.
I had listened to the music lots of times & had done some homework but I took the opportunity to have a look around the Chapel the day before & also to attend a study session 'Exploring the Passion' with Bach scholar Professor John Butt which was being held in King's College itself. After getting totally lost in the college & then nearly colliding with Lukas Jakobski () who would later be singing the bass arias, I found my way to the lecture hall. If a two hour study session sounds a bit 'dry' it was far from it. Prof. Butt is a fascinating & engaging exponent & later in the lecture he was joined by two of the evening's soloists James Gilchrist (Evangelist) and David Wilson-Johnson (Christus). Some of it was a bit over my head but I'm really pleased I went.
I'd been looking forward to the performance for months & thought I knew what to expect but nothing could have prepared me for the experience of actually seeing it & hearing it live. The Chapel was built in about 1515 & the feeling of history is almost tangible but in a calming & tranquil way. This atmosphere, together with the extraordinary acoustics, makes for a perfect setting.
I was spellbound by the whole performance; I loved its rhythm & pace & the way the music & the voices reverberated around the old walls & in the quieter sections seemed to float up to the ceiling & back again, enfolding the listeners. I loved the silences & the one at the end was especially spine tingling.
The AAM, the King's College Choir & the choristers were superb. The singing from all the soloists was just gorgeous & at the end, their contribution was suitably acknowledged by sustained applause & they were recalled several times to receive yet more acclaim from the audience.
Afterwards I really didn't want to leave & sat in my seat thinking about what I'd just heard & trying to understand why it had affected me so much. It's had a profound effect on me, not in any religious sense but has definitely given me plenty to think about. I do know I want to see it again & at this venue. Next year's performance has a provisional date of either 25th or 26th March 2013 with Christoph Genz already named as the Evangelist & Andreas Scholl named as the counter-tenor.
(PS The sign in the Chapel says 'No Flash' rather than 'No Photos' otherwise I wouldn't have used my camera)
Thank you for sharing your St Matthew Passion experience, Annie. I attended a performance of the St Matthew Passion on Good Friday (6 April) here in Johannesburg. It was at our regular concert venue. I will write a review of it today and post it here.
Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience, Annie. Listening to St. Matthew Passion on CD is wonderful enough, I can't imagine to be able to listen to it LIVE and at such a beautiful venue.
St Matthew Passion
The Symphony Choir of Johannesburg brought the 'greatest story ever told' to life on Good Friday.
The St Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the great sacred oratorios. Written in 1727 for solo voices, double choir and double orchestra, it is a setting by Christian Friedrich Henrici of chapters 26 and 27 of the Gospel according to St Matthew in Martin Luther's German translation. It was probably first performed on Good Friday in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.
The Symphony Choir of Johannesburg and the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra presented this work on Good Friday 2012 at the Linder Auditorium under the baton of Richard Cock. In his programme notes, Richard Cock says “Bach's St Matthew Passion is by general consent technically, emotionally and devotionally the greatest work of its kind ever written. Christ's words are distinguished from the others by being accompanied by a halo of strings and various characters have their place in the work – some of the music is thrillingly realistic (the rending of the veil, the earthquake and the shouts of the crowd) and some of the solos are absolutely heart-rending in their expressiveness.”
The Linder Auditorium was packed, with only one empty seat, co-incidentally in the row in which I was sitting. The people next to me insisted that they were expecting someone and that the organisers could not use that seat for one of the hopefuls waiting outside. Performances of the Symphony Choir of Johannesburg are always sold out.
No artistic attempt was made to mount this work in an historical context, so the work is performed with a huge choir, and six soloists who do not form part of the choir. One of the choristers sings the role of Peter. The two orchestras share an organ, with Sue Cock playing for both. Logistically it makes sense to use only one organ, but it does mean that Sue Cock worked exceptionally hard throughout as she provided the continuo for the entire performance. She's more than up to the task, delivering a fine example of the genre.
I found that overall the pace of the music was somewhat slower than I would have liked, but despite its length I didn't experience the “fidgits” (which I have to force myself to restrain) I always get in performances of Messiah. I was able to enter into the worship experience as we worked our way through the narrative with the story being both told and commented upon.
Speaking of the narrative, the tenor Evangelist was Bernard Loonen. Other soloists were Lynelle Kenned, Veramarie Meyer, Siyabonga Maqungo, Jaco Klopper and Hendre van Zyl as a warm resonant Jesus. The soloists were all wonderful, each delivering a fine and beautifully modulated recitative which moved seamlessly into their arias, but it was the performance of Jaco Klopper which blew me away. He has an exquisite bass voice, clear as a bell despite it being in the bottom range, which makes it possible to hear every word. It was a real pleasure listening to him. The only gripe I had was that the performance was being played live on radio as it happened. The usual recording mikes used by the Johannesburg Philharmonic were in place but they had added some for the vocal solos, notably two in the front. Because of lack of space on the stage the soloists were seated at the side and had to move across the stage into place each time, a process which I found mildly distracting. The choir's diction and textual nuance was less exciting than that of the soloists, but the sound was always pleasing.
At many points during the performance I got goosebumps as I shared the sentiments being sung. I love settings of the Passion which end with crucifixion and leave one to go home forlorn and without hope, in the mould of the first disciples. It makes the joy of Easter so much sharper, even for those of us who believe it year round.
Thank you Moira for a thoughtful & intelligent review. What language was it sung in? In the 'Exploring the Passion' study lecture, language was discussed & both singers said they preferred to sing it in German. I've not heard it in English but I think I'd prefer German, I always prefer my opera in its original language.
At 'mine', because of the venue, all the soloists sat on raised platforms. Evangelist & Christ sat to one side, stood to speak but didn't move their positions. The other soloists sat on the other side & as the time came for their recits & arias, they moved to the middle & stepped on to a slightly higher platform which was great as they wouldn't have been seen so well otherwise. I couldn't see their feet but these four soloists must have worn soft soled shoes as they didn't make a sound as they walked to and from the middle.
Sung in German with a booklet with the words and the English translation being available to purchase with the programme. I never thought to mention this in the review, although I would have if it were a different language.
Our soloists wore heels against the wooden floors and they clattered along.
The Linder Auditorium is our regular classical concert venue, hosting the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra seasons, the Symphony Choir of Johannesburg concerts, the Johannesburg Musical Society Concerts, some of the Black Tie Ensemble VO1SS (opera) concerts as well as a wide variety of other classical concerts as they happen. Usually they also host the two big Johannesburg International Mozart Festival concerts - the opening and the closing, but this year the JIMF seem to have partnered with the University of Johannesburg where a lot of the concerts were held. The UJ theatre is half the size which makes it about right for JIMF concerts.
Ok I have quite a few recordings of the complete work (obviously) so a a few comments:
Netherlands Bach Society - Jos Van Veldhoven - fantastic version, superb edition and booklet, one voice per part though choruses sound rich and full. Excellent.
Collegium Vocale Gent - Philliphe Herreweghe - probably the best HIP version in my collection, it's absolutely amazing in every regard. I just wished the last chours was taken a little more slowly.
La Petite Band - Gustav Leonhardt - good version but for HIP (my prefferred option with Bach, though some non-HIP recordings are good as I will describe soon), check the ones above.
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra - Ton Koopman - my great HIP hope. I haven't yet heard it, the only one I still haven't (I will in the next three weeks) but from all I've read this is the version I'm looking for with more time and body in the opening and closing choruses (the Herreweghe is almost perfect, not perfect).
GewandhausOrchester - Riccardo Chailly - good version with great singing and playing but some moments sound Mozartian almost in their grace and flow, which is not what I was looking for. Chailly italianizes the work a little too much for my taste.
Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra - Geza Oberfrank - this old Naxos recording in modern instruments was my first one and it's still good.
Munchner Bach Orchestra - Karl Richter - there is a reason why this recording is regarded as legendary. Only the most hardcore HIP fans will not like this perfect modern-instrument version.
Philharmonia - Otto Klemperer - this version is really unique. The opening chorus lasts over ten minutes, it really takes forever, but it has a special connection with the subject at hand. This will not be a version for everyody, is gigantic, elephantistic, but I like it.
CSO - Solti - I've always said that my favorite conductor isn't perfect. Case in point. Decent version but pales next to all the other ones. The highlight are the choruses though they sound a little too full and gigantic and the confessional, intimate element is lost. What works for Wagner doesn't work for Baroque music. Solti's Messiah is much better.
Last edited by tgtr0660; Apr-07-2012 at 20:29.