JS Bach Matthew Passion - Dunedin Consort - Atlanta Audio Society
01 May 2008Atlanta Audio Society
On a fine new offering from Linn, John Butt leads the Dunedin Consort and Players in a Matthew Passion characterized by sublimely sweet sadness plus a transparency and immediacy of feeling that serve the purposes of the story to perfection. The version used is J. S. Bach's final performing version of 1742 with his last instrumental changes. Eight principal voices, four in each of the two choirs, explore many different forms of dialogue, as if to draw us into a conversation occurring in real time. The solo scoring permits a form of expression more commonly associated with solo singing than choral performance. When these voices come together as disciples or those baying for Jesus's blood, we hear them as individuals constituting a group rather than a crowd.
Bach's arias, ariosos and framing choruses provide both an emotional interpretation of the biblical text and a commentary on it. The Passion's emphasis on dialogue form requires the presence of a double chorus and orchestra. This allows Bach to present contrasting or opposing moods simultaneously and for dialogue between a single speaker and a group. And it served to personalize the conflict in the Passion story itself for Bach's original listeners (who, we should remember, were encouraged to join in with the choruses).
Uniquely, the chorus reflects the common lot of humanity, filled with the questions of belief and doubt that plague us all. They interject "Wo," "Wie," Wer," "Was," "Wohin?" (Where, How, Who, What, When?) at crucial moments in the opening chorus and later during the trial of Jesus, as if impatient to know what's happening. At one point they call for Jesus' death: "Lass ihn kreuzigen" (Crucify him)! Later, they are moved to pity and remorse: "O, Haupt! Voll Blut und Wunden" (O, head full of blood and wounds). With Butt's single-voice-to-a-part approach (first pioneered in the US some twenty years ago by Joshua Rifkin), we have come a great distance from the massive choruses of the past that would have done justice to the Obermannergau Passion Play. While the smaller choruses allow for a great deal of nuance, they do not provide the feeling of bustle, chaos and occasional menace that we might have had with larger forces.
Butt has some outstanding vocalists among the Dunedin Consort, particularly soprano Susan Hamilton, alto Claire Wilkinson, and tenor Malcolm Bennett, with tenor Nicholas Mulroy as a persuasive Evangelist. In the crucial role of Jesus, bass Matthew Brook is called upon sparingly, but he is always true and decisive when we hear him. Among the arias, Wilkinson's "Ach, nun ist mein Jesu hin!" (Ah, now is my Jesus gone) and "Erbarme dich, mein Gott" (Have mercy, my God), Hamilton's "Ich will mein Herz dir schenken" (I will give my heart to you), Brook's "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein" (Make yourself pure, my heart), and Mulroy's "Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen" (I will watch beside my Jesus) are first-rate. Soprano Cecilia Osmond, alto Annie Gill and bass Brian Bannatyne-Scott lend outstanding support. Add a beautifully textured string sound and lovely solos from the oboists in particular, and we have a really memorable and persuasive Matthew Passion that is at the same time easy on the ears.
Related LinksDunedin ConsortJS Bach Matthew Passion (Final performing version, c. 1742)