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ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, J.S.: St. Matthew Passion (Kuijken)
Scholarly debate continues on the subject of Bach's choruses - single voice to a part, or choral forces? The single voice camp is in front at the moment I think, on paper, but the real test is what it can sound like.
Kuijken, his singers and La Petite Bande present a single voice version which is rewarding and thought-provoking. The usual image of the cleaning of an old painting revealing new colours and textures certainly applies here. Kuijken is following Rifkin, Parrott, Butt and his own Bach cantata series with this approach. The clarity of texture in the choral passages is intimate and immediate, and allows subtleties of phrasing not heard in conventional choruses. Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir approach some of these qualities with their version, but need a very rigid discipline of tempo to achieve this.
The single voices are allowed more freedom, and use it well. This is not a micro-managed St Matthew like those of Gardiner and Harnoncourt. Nevertheless the larger choral movements such as the opening and closing choruses are carefully crafted. The tempi are well chosen and connected, and there is a good sense of unity in the work. I have only two quibbles: the use of the organ in the chorale movements clouds the texture somewhat, and works against the 'madrigalian' result that Kuijken is hoping for. I don't know if this organ use is authentic but it could be made rather less prominent. Second, the absence of a real basso voice for the Christus goes against expectations, but more importantly the singer, Jan van der Crabben, lacks the necessary pathos here. On the other hand, his singing of the bass arias is quite outstanding, particularly 'Mache dich', which is a major highlight. Another highlight is Kuijken's playing of the violin obbligati. He is quite closely recorded here, but the very important oboe obbligati are more distant, and could have benefited from the same treatment as the violin.
On the whole the singers both in solo and choral sections are very satisfactory. After a couple of listenings, the single voice approach becomes quite 'normal' and possibly addictive - try the outstanding Bach Magnificat by Pierlot and the Ricercar ensemble on Mirare.more....
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BACH, J.S.: St. Matthew Passion (Kuijken)