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Bach: Matthäuspassion - van Veldhoven

Bach: Matthäuspassion - van Veldhoven

Channel Classics  CCS SA 32511 (3 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Bach: St. Matthew Passion BWV 244

The Netherlands Bach Society
Jos van Veldhoven (conductor)


Bach's St Matthew Passion is almost always described as a double-choir composition for two choirs and two orchestras. Two large ensembles play in dialogue, and the score presents a symmetrical structure. The scoring of the two groups of singers and players is identical, and each ensemble has four soloists for the arias. On the stage one often sees two equal groups of singers, and an orchestra likewise divided exactly into two. The Evangelist and Jesus are often the only exceptions to this impressive symmetry.

There are reasons enough, however, to look at the score in another way. Firstly, there is the Bible story itself, which is told entirely in Coro I (Bach speaks of Coro, by which he means all the singers and players of one ensemble, not just the choir). In his score, Bach even distinguishes the Evangelist's part in Coro I by writing it in red ink. The role of Coro II, besides its contribution to the cries of the crowd in the story and to the chorales, is limited to delivering commentary. In the organisation of the score as well there are considerable distinctions: almost all the important arias are to be found in Coro I - and there are twice as many as in Coro II - and the composition technique reveals major differences. In contrast to the great wealth of instrumental solos in Coro I, the writing for Coro II is much simpler: the instruments often double other parts, and instrumental solos are almost entirely absent. The score as a whole gives a strong impression of hierarchy, rather than equality or symmetry.

Jos van Veldhoven (from the liner notes)

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DSD recording

Recorded live in April 2010 at the Grote Kerk, Naarden, the Netherlands, DSD 64fs

Producer: Paul Janse

Recording engineer and editing: C. Jared Sacks

Technical assistance: Tom Peeters

Recording equipment: Bruel & Kjaer 4006 & Schoeps microphones; DSD Super Audio / Grimm Audio Pyramix Editing/Merging Technologies; Audio Lab Holland speakers; van Medevoort Holland amplifiers; Ren Heijnis custom design mixing board

Mastering room equipment: Bowers & Wilkins 803D series speakers; Classe 5002 amplifier; Van den Hul cables (exclusive use of Van den Hul cables, the Integration and The Second)
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Review by Graham Williams - April 5, 2011

This is the fourth recording of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion to appear on SA-CD and is a wonderful achievement in both musical and technical terms by all concerned.

As is to be expected when considering one of Western music’s supreme creations, those seeking a recording of the St Matthew passion are faced with bewildering choices, both in terms of style and spiritual insight. The available recordings span a huge spectrum of interpretation ranging from totally inauthentic 19th century versions that use both a massive chorus and modern instruments such as the recording by Otto Klemperer, through various attempts at historically informed authenticity. These eventually reach those that embrace Joshua Rifkin’s thesis that the St. Matthew Passion was performed with one singer per voice part. The enjoyable Dunedin Consort’s version on Linn is the most recent example of this pared down approach Bach: Matthäuspassion - Butt.

This is the second recording of this work that Jos van Veldhoven and the Netherlands Bach Society have made and, like the first issued 13 years ago, it is a live recording; though one would hardly guess that to be the case as audience noise is limited to just a few rustles and a couple of very discreet coughs throughout the 165 minute span of the performance. What is of special interest for SACD devotees, and those in particular that listen in multi-channel, is the way in which the technology has been used to enhance the experience of this magnificent performance. For the concerts from which these SACDs have been made, van Veldhoven decided to create a spatial arrangement by having a separate stage for each group of musicians placed some ten metres apart with some audience members even sitting between the two choirs. Jared Sacks has re-created this effect so that those listening in multi-channel will hear Coro II from the rear speakers whilst those listening in stereo will hear Coro II from the right channel as usual. It must be emphasised that the spatial effect achieved in the surround version is completely un-gimmicky but breathtakingly involving. For example, in the opening chorus of Part I ‘Kommt, ihr Töchter’ the effect of hearing the cries of ‘Wen?’ and ‘Wie?’ delivered by Coro II from the surrounds immediately draws the listener into the centre of the unfolding drama.

On this new recording van Veldhoven has assembled as distinguished a group of soloists as one could expect to hear today. These include the experienced Gerd Türk (the evangelist on both van Veldhoven’s earlier recording and the Suzuki CD recording on BIS). His fresh, bright voice is most appealing and he delivers Picander’s text with both clarity and communicative skill. Peter Harvey is a notably firm and dignified Christus and possesses the necessary gravitas for the role, and to be fair there are no weak links in van Veldhoven’s solo team. Those familiar with other recordings by the Netherlands Bach Society will not be surprised to hear that their playing on period instruments is of the highest quality. The 18 instrumentalists for Coro I, and 13 for Coro II, play with exceptional sensitivity and all the obbligatos are a joy to hear.

Channel’s superb 5.0 DSD recording reproduces their sound with the richness and glow of a Rembrandt canvas, while at the same time capturing the lovely acoustic of the Grote Kerk, Naarden in the Netherlands.
The greatest praise must be accorded to van Veldhoven who paces the work with unerring skill. His tempi are lively, but never rushed, and he is fully attuned to conveying a dramatic realisation of the Passion story.

It is worth adding that the presentation of these discs is of the highest quality even by Channel’s high standard. The three discs are in a digi-pak inside a substantial cardboard slipcase that also includes a beautifully illustrated 192-page hardback book containing the texts, and full-colour reproductions of mainly 16th and 17th century religious paintings. There is also a fascinating essay by Dr. Isabelle van on Lutheran theology and mystical love in the St. Matthew Passion. The conductor also contributes a helpful essay outlining the issues he considered and choices he made for this performance.

Whatever other recordings you may have in your library, Veldhoven’s inspired reading, with its exceptional blend of committed musicianship and scholarship should definitely be auditioned by all who love this work.

This is without doubt a top recommendation and anyone receiving this set, as an Easter gift, will surely be delighted.

Copyright © 2011 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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