Texte paru dans: / Appeared in:

  40:1 (09-10 /2016)
Pour s'abonner / Subscription information
Les abonnés à Fanfare Magazine ont accès aux archives du magazine sur internet.
Subscribers to Fanfare Magazine have access to the archives of the magazine on the net.


Code-barres / Barcode : 4009350832855


Outil de traduction ~ (Très approximatif)
Translator tool (Very approximate)

Reviewer: Ronald E. Grames


This recording has been released by publishing house Carus-Verlag to showcase a new critical edition of the St. Matthew Passion by Bach expert Klaus Hofmann, published in 2012. In a market where differing performance styles for Bach’s towering masterpiece are fervently—and sometimes heatedly—commended to the potential CD buyer, there may be virtue in being middle-of-the-road and non-doctrinaire, especially when led by an important exponent of Bach’s choral works, with vocal and period instrumental ensembles he founded decades ago. This recording, made in 2015, is expertly recorded by Southwest German Broadcasting (SWR2) in the familiar and supportive acoustic of the Evangelische Kirche in Grönningen, Germany where conductor and ensemble have made many recordings. It is all very comfortable and polished, in part, no doubt, as a result of this shared experience.

Conductor Frieder Bernius is, in fact, something of a Carus house conductor. He draws on experience with this masterwork ranging from the monumental readings of the 1960s to his own experiments in one-voice-per-part in the 1980s (“as if one only played Bach’s organ works on the eight-foot and four-foot registers”), and embraces many historically informed principles. Here he chooses an approach that avoids extremes in size, tempos, and interpretation, opting for consensus-size ensembles, based loosely on Bach’s own request for church musicians: the two choruses of 16 and 14 respectively, with the two orchestras at 15 and 19. He uses no boys’ voices—not even for the separate soprano ripieno in the opening and closing chorales of Part I—but does model the sound of boys, though with women less white-toned than some. Four of six altos are countertenors.

Other decisions are similarly uncontroversial. Per Bach’s directions, members of the chorus take the smaller roles, while, in keeping with more recent practice, five non-choral vocalists sing the Evangelist, Jesus, and the arias. The Evangelist sings the tenor’s two recitative/aria sets, as Bach’s tenor principal would have, but there are separate basses for Jesus and the arias. In the orchestra, Bernius uses period instruments, including a viola da gamba in the second orchestra, which some listeners may not notice, and a lute in the continuo of the same orchestra, which is more evident. The sound of the flutes often predominates, giving this performance a more than usually pastoral quality, and the contributions of the Baroque double-reed instruments is particularly lovely. The engineers have recorded at a moderate distance in a warmly resonant space, recreating something of the glow and spiritual quality that traditionalists prefer. Bernius’s tempos, while nowhere near those of the epic three hour-plus Klemperer, Richter, or Münchinger, are, at a total time of 164 minutes, more leisurely than some current readings.

And so, appropriately for a recording issued to accompany a performing edition focused on practical issues, his approach to the score is flexible and unpedantic, while embracing essentials of the latest scholarship. That makes it ideal, right? Well, there is much to admire here. Tenor Tilman Lichdi is a fine Evangelist, with a pleasant, slightly reedy tone, flawless intonation, and lively diction. Bass Christian Immler—really more a baritone here, though I have heard him sound the bass-baritone elsewhere—creates a noble and charismatic Jesus. The three aria soloists are technically fine, experienced Bach performers, and have impressive voices and pleasant vocal personalities. What I miss here, from leader and performers, is a view of the work that offers individual character and a bit more drama. Too often the performers are allowed to create lovely sounds but too little of the implication of the text. “Alas! My heart is bathed in tears.” Shouldn’t one feel that sorrow? “Ah woe! How trembles his tormented heart.” Where is the torment in the voice and orchestra? How can it be that the violin conveys more of pleading than mezzo-soprano Sophie Harmsen in “Erbarme dich?” Yes, some tension is created in crisis moments like the betrayal and arrest, and at the crucifixion, and the choir is impressive in the cries of “Lasst ihn, haltet, bindet nicht!” and in “Sind Blitze, sind Donner,” which follows (impressive basses!). But Harmsen and soprano Hannah Morrison, whose duet is interrupted by these cries, could have been singing about the weather instead of “All is dark and for grief creation shaken.” And really, it is the general tone as much as individual soloists. Why is the orchestra, with some notable exceptions, allowed to burble along sedately regardless of the emotion portrayed? Where is the angst and sorrow in the final chorale in Part I, “O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß?” Why is the famous passion chorale sung with such detachment in all but its final appearance?

There is nothing awkward or unpleasant, and there are some striking moments of inspiration. Lichdi becomes marvelously engaged at the crucifixion narrative. Harvey’s inward “Komm, sußes Kreutz,” accompanied by viola da gamba, lute, et al., and Harmsen’s impassioned “Ach Golgotha”—unfortunately not so intensely accompanied—and wonderful “Sehet, Jesus hat die Hand” show what could have been. What this performance needs throughout is more passion. It has great beauty of sonority and line, and those who value that highly will be pleased with this performance. I cannot say it would be a first … or fifth … choice for me, though I will certainly add it to my collection. Herreweghe’s second recording on Harmonia Mundi and Suzuki’s on BIS would be my top recommendations. Butt’s release on Linn—the most persuasive one-voice-per-part Bach I know—is a fascinating supplement.

Carus has released a limited deluxe edition on SACD which I have not heard. I can’t imagine that would change my impression.

Fermer la fenêtre/Close window


Cliquez l'un ou l'autre bouton pour découvrir bien d'autres critiques de CD
 Click either button for many other reviews