JS Bach Matthew Passion - Dunedin Consort - Star Ledger of New Jersey

Scotland's Dunedin Consort won a 2007 Gramophone Award for its take on Handel's "Messiah." Led again by scholar-performer John Butt, this set of Bach's towering "St. Matthew Passion" is marked by similar virtues: fresh, fine-tuned voices, a beautifully textured instrumental sound.

Butt's interpretation -- based on Bach's final score -- employs one voice per part, like Paul McCreesh's 2003 release. It's a purist, chapel-rather-than-cathedral approach that, to some, can drain the grandeur from the work. But the eight ensemble voices here convey the heart-rending final chorus with an emotional intimacy that a big chorus could never manage. The tempos are swift, yet Butt allows the phrasing to breath naturally. He doesn't have a Jesus to compare with Matthias Goerne for Nickolaus Harnoncourt's most recent recording, and some of the singing can sound a shade too Anglophone (more apt for "Messiah"). Philippe Herreweghe's 1999 "St. Matthew" remains this listener's benchmark for its continental feel.

Yet no "St. Matthew Passion" has the benefit of such strikingly clear and present sound as this one, whether in surround or stereo. The recording draws a listener into the music like a beckoning hand.

09 June 2008