Kagel's conundrum is this: Saint Bach is either a unique musical phenomenon, perhaps the only instance of such divinely made (not just inspired) music, thus rendering him incomparable and even incommensurable to all other composers, or Bach's saintliness is a possibility that any composer might attain and thus "Saint Bach" is a representation of "the composer" him/herself in his/her fullest attainment. If this is the case, what other composers might Kagel also be a saint? Himself? As I said, Kagel confronts us with the most challenging epistemological conundrum any recent composer to my knowledge has laid down. And I suspect attentive listeners will be wrestling with his conundrum for generations to come, either infuriated by its seeming audacity, or humbled by its remarkable devotion. In any case, some of those infuriated and humbled listeners will return to Kagel's music with a culminating sense of marvel at its emotion and elegant design that will seem at times to be Bach's music itself wearing an astonishingly contemporary garb.
Anne Sofie Von Otter, Hans-Peter Blochwitz, Roland Hermann, Peter Oggisch, Gerd Zacher, Stuttgart Sudfunkchor, Limburger Cathedral Boys Choir, Hamburg Radio Chorus, Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mauricio Kage / Conductor
J.S. Bach's Johannes-Passion, or St. John Passion, BWV 245 – one of just two surviving Bach Passion works out of an original four or five – is, simply put, a headache for editors and performers wishing to recreate the authentic, stamped-and-approved original work. There is no such beast: the work was performed at least four times during Bach's lifetime, and for each new presentation he overhauled the music, adding numbers, deleting numbers, changing numbers, so that today we really have four different St. John Passions through which to pick and choose our way. Happily enough, however, Bach misses the mark in not a single one of those numbers, and the director can hardly go wrong selecting from such a wealth of fine material. The St. John Passion was first heard on April 7, 1724 (Good Friday), and then reproduced for Leipzig churchgoers in 1725, sometime in the early 1730s (perhaps 1732), and then again in 1749. Perhaps in part because of its sometimes bewildering compositional history and the fact that its texts were not really conceived as a single entity (Bach seems to have arranged the texts himself from a number of disparate sources, and sometimes his efforts – which seem to have been hasty ones – are not altogether graceful), the St. John Passion has never been a sweepingly popular work like the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244. But it is a monumental work that must have made quite an impression indeed at its first performance, early on in Bach's tenure as Cantor of Leipzig.
Fifteen years after his recording of Bach’s three Sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord (on hm, with Rinaldo Alessandrini), Paolo Pandolfo returns to this repertoire a new approach: the fruit of active and concentrated years of consideration, study and research into the inherent possibilities of his instrument. Given the basic differing natures of these two instruments, the performance of these works very often turns – in Pandolfo’s words – into a “musical argument”, rather than what is demanded by the music’s essential nature: a “musical conversation” in which the score achieves “transparency and eloquence”.
This performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion is sung in English and played on modern instrument. If that bothers you, don't bother checking out this recording. If it doesn't bother you, and you like the idea of a heartrending, awe-inspiring, and profoundly moving performance of Bach's sacred dramatic masterpiece, by all means, try this recording. David Willcocks, the dean of English choral conductors, leads the combined forces of the Bach Choir, the Boys' Choir of St. Paul's Cathedral, and the Thames Chamber Orchestra along with six A-list British soloists in a deeply human, intensely spiritual, and amazingly dramatic performance of the work.
Among traditional modern-instrument versions of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Wolfgang Gönnenwein’s 1968 recording has a lot to offer. Not least is the excellent choral singing from top to bottom. The texts are always clear, and the pacing for the chorales is governed by the story’s dramatic unfolding. You can’t help but be hooked by Evangelist Theo Altmeyer’s warm tone and vivid portrayal, complemented by Franz Crass’ sonorous, touching Jesus. What a joy it is to hear Teresa Zylis-Gara, Julia Hamari, and Hermann Prey at the peak of their respective powers. Tenor Nicolai Gedda is heard to better advantage with Gönnenwein than in Otto Klemperer’s recording, where he struggled with that conductor’s craggy tempos. The orchestra plays beautifully, and the engineering does full justice to Bach’s antiphonal interplay. All the recitatives are accompanied by rather dutiful chordal backing from the organ and cello (Bach adds a “halo” of strings, of course, whenever Jesus opens his mouth). A harpsichordist with a bent for improvisation would have spruced up the texture. Lovers of great Bach singing, however, will treasure this release.(Jed Distler)
This box set gathers together Karl Richter's stereo recordings of Bach's choral works that were recorded between 1959-1969. Missing is his final, digital St Matt, the 1961 Mass in B Minor (the 1969 "from Japan" recording is included) and an earlier mono Christmas Oratorio (available on Teldec CDs).
Helmuth Rilling is an excellent conductor and interpreter of Bach's sacred music. Recorded from 1969 to 1985, over a longer period of time than most other sets, there is a lot of change throughout the series. Rilling's recordings are more dense and lush than others, and his tempi are often slower than HIP recordings - no "original instruments" for Rilling. But he creates such a detailed sound-world that any fan of these works should want to hear Rilling's versions to compare with others. This said, Rilling often uses a technique that I find a bit disturbing. He'll have one instrument or group of instruments sequestered to one track, and others on the other track, giving a sound similar to that of early Beatles' stereo mixes, where vocals were on one track and instruments on the other. This is something you never hear in live performance; while one instrument may be on one side, you still hear it on the other side. This tends to make some of the movements sound as though there's no blend among the singers and musicians.(Kirk McElhearn)
Most of us come to the Saint John Passion knowing the Saint Matthew Passion first. The bigger and more elaborate Saint Matthew, which came along three, or possibly five years later (there is controversy about the date), has tended to cast a shadow in which the earlier work is swallowed up, and this has been so ever since Mendelssohn's Saint Matthew performance in 1829 marked the beginning of the public rediscovery of J.S. Bach. (The professionals had never forgotten.) But if the Saint John is smaller in scale than the Saint Matthew, it is hardly the lesser work in quality, though it would of course be silly to claim that the master of the Saint Matthew Passion had not learned from the experience of setting Saint John. But the most interesting differences between these two towering attestations of faith are differences in intention. Read Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, and John 18-19, and you get four tellings of the last days in the life of Jesus that differ in tone, emphasis, and detail…
As one of the 20th century's most acclaimed Bach interpreters, Karl Richter devotes his expertise to this monumental epic of Christ's final hours, tapping the power of Bach's rich choral writing for a rendering of startling immediacy - for the first time on DVD.