BACH: St. Matthew Passion (2011)

BACH: St. Matthew Passion (2011)

Performers: Werner Gura (Evangelist)/ Stephen Morscheck (Jesus)/ Lucy Crowe (soprano)/ Christine Rice (mezzo-soprano)/ Nicholas Phan (tenor)/ Matthew Brook (bass-baritone)/ Bertrand Grunenwald (bass)/ Chamber Orch. of Paris/ Schola Cantorum of Oxford/ Maitrise de Paris/ Christophe Coin, viola da gamba/ John Nelson
Director: Louise Narboni
Studio: EuroArts 3079658 (2 DVDs) [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 color  
Audio: PCM Stereo, DTS 5.0, DD 5.0
Subtitles: German, English, French
No Region Code 
Length: 177 minutes
Bonus: The Journey, 57 minutes
Rating: *****

I can think of no better individual to conduct this work than John Nelson; a person of deep faith himself, he infuses every bar with what he believes is the essence of Bach’s spirit, a colossal work that was nevertheless designed for a church setting and not a concert hall. Nelson has nothing against period instruments per se, but in the excellent documentary that accompanies this performance he makes it clear that the spirit of so many period performances leaves him cold, stylistically apropos but spiritually empty. His rehearsals show him to be tremendously prepared, having examined each and every word of the text with its corresponding musical setting, dissecting it for the purpose of furthering our understanding of the piece, but never exalting such in-depth analysis to become the guiding principle of the performance.

He hired what he considers to be an “ideal” cast, and indeed they are, headed by the miraculous portrayal of the narrator by Werner Gura, surely the leading proponent of the part currently singing. The chorus is also a wonderful example of perfected amateurism—these are not music majors or professionals, but each is a superb musician and all coalese into an ensemble of warmth, technical acumen, and innate understanding of this music.

This is easily a release that I will turn on without the video many times, and it is also the equal of virtually any audio-only release on the market. A nice-sized double choir, excellent soloists, modern instruments, and a loving and highly devotional approach make for a DVD of exceptional merit. Seven cameras were used to record this, and the video itself is quite compelling and non-obtrusive. This is how concerts should be filmed. For Bach with purpose, understanding, and love, you need look nowhere else.

—Steven Ritter

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