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GRAMOPHONE (06/2021)
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Reviewer: Jonathan Freeman-Attwood

The publicity for this meticulous and beautifully conceived reading of the St Matthew Passion claims Hans Christoph Rademann’s vision as somehow transformative (‘from a completely new perspective … something unheard of’). If each accomplished recording of the Passion brings its own special dimension, the Gaechinger Cantorey’s most distinctive attributes lie in its measured narrative, adroit judgement, fine balance and well-ordered musicianly responses. This is no radical awakening of a masterpiece. Rather, it’s a wholesomely satisfying product of the German Kapellmeister tradition inflected with modern ‘period’ elegance, expressive lucidity and disarming integrity. While the same could be said about Masaaki Suzuki’s triumph last year (BIS, 4/00), the difference here is that Rademann’s approach is more about following the general ritual and representation than multi-layered solace and deep reflection. The ensemble is resonant, luminous and gleaming in places but the emotional stakes are less demanding on the listener than Suzuki. The Evangelist is the ever-coherent Patrick Grahl and you know you’re in good hands from the outset, as is also true of Peter Harvey’s knowing and sympathetic Christus.

Although far removed from the relatively intractable style of Helmuth Rilling, Rademann has selected his solo singers as carefully as the Stuttgart director used to: the best aria set pieces in this recording are genuinely memorable. Buss und Reu always a key setting-out of stalls reveals the fine alto of Marie Henriette Reinhold; and, despite a tendency to withdraw into the phrase and push forwards, soprano Isabel Schicketanz is a deeply sensitive singer and offers much of the imploring focus that Hana Blažíková exhibits for Suzuki (Aus Liebe is such a case). Each of the singers is exquisitely accompanied by the instrumentalists, everyone sure of their place in the firmament albeit a socially distanced one. Mention should also be made of Krešimir Stražanac, a fine bass voice communicative to the core, as he demonstrates in a wonderfully characterised Gebt mir meinen Jesus.

If nothing surprises and shocks in this reading, with its natural and unrushed evolution of ideas and quiet confidence (not surprising as Rademann was brought up as a chorister in the Dresden Kreuzchor with Peter Schreier’s Evangelist a regular presence), the accumulated effect is a major contributor to its success. By many of today’s ‘à la mode’ standards, the chorales will be seen by some as too luxuriant and the crowd scenes short of the febrile spit and sawdust of Gardiner and Suzuki. On the credit side, there are some deeply disarming ‘periods of play’. Rademann has an astute sense of how human frailty and mercy sit at the heart of almost every conceit, and he gauges the end of Part 1, from an irresistible ‘So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen’, with considerable clear-sightedness.

Several extant accounts over the past 70 or 80 years offer greater poetry or more of an iron grip on the drama, but Rademann’s St Matthew Passion is one that exudes an evenness in performance (it is remarkably free of uncomfortable moments) and an un-self-serving simplicity that get to the heart of work without hyperbole and fuss. It is also infused with humility and warmth of a kind that makes it an appealing choice for those who want to be reminded of the score’s eternal riches without too much heat.

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