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Bach: St. Matthew Passion Box set

4.0 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Box set, October 20, 1989
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Editorial Reviews

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John Eliot Gardiner's reading of the Matthew Passion is conceived and executed on the highest level, an example of period practice that is unlikely to be bettered any time soon. The performance as a whole vibrates with life: soloists are first-rate, and wonderfully well chosen for their respective parts, and the work of chorus and orchestra is exemplary. The recording, made in 1988 in the spacious ambience of Snape Maltings (England), is well balanced and exceptionally vivid. --Ted Libbey
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Product Details

  • Performer: Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Andreas Schmidt, Barbara Bonney, Ann Monoyios, Anne Sofie von Otter
  • Orchestra: Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, London Oratory Junior Singers
  • Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner
  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Audio CD (October 20, 1989)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Format: Box set
  • Note on Boxed Sets: During shipping, discs in boxed sets occasionally become dislodged without damage. Please examine and play these discs. If you are not completely satisfied, we'll refund or replace your purchase.
  • Label: Archiv Produktion
  • ASIN: B0000057DG
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,783 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on May 17, 2001
Format: Audio CD
More than a decade after its release, this recording remains a benchmark for this sublime work. It may have been joined by the recent Herreweghe as a prime recomendation, but it certainly has not been bettered. Despite what some listeners say on this site, it's far from being only a superficial account. True, it's much faster than Klemperer's classic version, but why should we consider slow as the same as profound? I can think of only one instance of a tempo faster than appropriate here, in "Ich will dir mein Herze schenken", which is anyway lovingly sung by Barbara Bonney. In every other aria, Gardiner's tempos just sound right. Listen, for instance, to how he takes "So ist mein Jesus nun Gefangen" moderately (Herreweghe, Brüggen and Suzuki are noticeably faster) and then releases a furious "Sind Blitze, sind donner" and read the texts. Or notice how the tender and deeply felt singing of Michael Chance in "Erbarme dich", coupled with the gracious violin solo of Elizabeth Wilcock, is exceptionally attuned to the bitter weeping of the lyrics.
Gardiner's version is, that's sure, a very dramatic account of the work. Here some may prefer a more contemplative approach, and they would be well served by Suzuki's recent recording. But Gardiner's delivery of the narrative is much more gripping, with an exceptional Evangelist in the voice of Anthony Rolfe-Johnson and some of the most impressive crowd's scenes ever, enhanced by the superb singing of the Monteverdi Choir. Herreweghe's excelent new recording, which is also intensely dramatic (more so in the arias, actually), can't compare to Gardiner's in such moments as when the crowd shouts for the freedom of "Barrabam" and soon after demands Jesus's crucifixion.
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Format: Audio CD
The Matthauspassion of J.S. Bach is among the world's greatest masterpieces of music, and Gardiner's Monteverdi Choir is one of the most professional choirs singing today, so right there we're starting off with an advantage.

The great opening Chorus for double-chorus and a children's choir of trebles is a masterpiece within a masterpiece. (Gardiner uses a children's chorus containing girls, an unusual choice.)

However, there are problems.

Gardiner seems more concerned with the choral parts --sticking to the strengths of his ensemble-- than the solo movements. The choruses, chorales and turbae (the short choral statements where the chorus speaks for the crowd, e.g. "crucify him!") are done well and with energy, smoothness, ensemble, and beautiful chording. But Gardiner seems to hurry through the solos to get to the choruses.

In my humble opinion, the Passion has both a dramatic character as well as a reflective character. When you hear it for the first time, it's the drama that grabs you. On subsequent hearings (esp. if you subscribe to the religious and spiritual beliefs presented in this work) it is the reflection that appeals to one, certainly to me. And at the time of this recording, Gardiner seems not to have been sympathetic to the reflective character of the work. If you're preoccupied with "Let's not get sentimental about this," this is what you'd produce. May I be forgiven for imagining that this is British Stiff Upper-Lip taken a little too far?

The tempi are a tad too fast in general.

However, look on the bright side:

Gardiner emphasizes the drama beautifully. This is a good choice for young people exploring Bach for the first time.
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2 Comments 36 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Audio CD
I simply do not understand why there is such harsh criticism about this recording of Gardiner's. His performance is certainly not perfect, but it is not so bad as to derserve the kind of criticism such that makes this work into a joke! This work is definitely no joke, but, on the other hand, is very serious and somber in nature because the passion of Christ is serious subject matter. And when listening to this version of St. Matthew's Passion there is NOTHING that takes away, or distracts from the true motivation behind this work, which is a meditation on the text, and the mood with the texts on the sufferings of Christ. If it is only shallow emotion, booming vocalists who have their fists clenched, or an overly-dramatic conductor that one desires in this recording, then instead of this recording, purchase some romantic composition such as Beethoven, Brahms, etc. However, if one desires to meditate on the sufferings of the Savior of mankind,(which was Bach's true intention for this work) then purchase this recording. In my opinion, the piece that truly stands out and should receive nothing but praise is the opening chorus (Kommt, ihr Tochter helft mir klagen/ O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig) If you listen to nothing else in this compilation, at least listen to this particular opening chorus because it is one of, if not THE greatest moments in all of Bach's works. I have heard slow, drawn-out romantic versions of this chorus, and choppy, march-like versions, however one will not go wrong with Gardiner's version.

As for comparing and contrasting the styles of the two famous Bach performers in that of Herreweghe and Gardiner, the two are so much alike with their tempos that if one of them is criticized for taking a piece too fast then both of them should!
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