JS Bach: St Matthew Passion (1727 version)
Since 1727, JS Bach’s “Great Passion” has gripped the hearts and uplifted the minds of audiences all over the globe. Nearly three centuries after its premiere, the work has lost none of its power to evoke feelings of compassion for all those who suffer. Its mix of urgent story-telling, meditative arias and mighty choruses sets St Matthew’s account of Christ’s betrayal, trial and execution eloquently and emotionally.
Over the past 40 years the AAM has made over 300 recordings of baroque and classical music, winning Brit and Gramophone Awards along the way, however – remarkably – this is our first recording of the St Matthew Passion. With a superlative cast including James Gilchrist, Sarah Connolly, Thomas Hobbs, Elizabeth Watts, Christopher Maltman and Matthew Rose, and directed by Richard Egarr, this is a landmark project.
“Richard Egarr and the Academy of Ancient Music brought an unapologetically lush and dramatic performance to the Concertgebouw stage . . . There was nothing cold or academic about this interpretation – playing and singing at their very best, the Academy of Ancient Music gave us a humane, generous vision of this most justly beloved of works.” ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
AAM Music Director Richard Egarr and leader Pavlo Beznosiuk discuss the original 1727 version of JS Bach’s St Matthew Passion from St-Jude-on-the-Hill, London, where AAM004 was recorded.
Go behind the scenes with Music Director Richard Egarr as he rehearses the orchestra and Choir of AAM ahead of our Good Friday performance at London’s Barbican Hall.
“For something in an actual original-instrument vein, a new recorded St Matthew Passion from the Academy of Ancient Music conducted by Richard Egarr, also using the original 1727 edition, is unusually dark, dusty, compelling and disturbing, flowing along as if a larger force were behind the message that the music was delivering in such an awesome, unforgettable way.”
Fine Music Magazine
“Housed in an attractive fold-out package, this album is quite simply top-notch. Playing on period instruments, the orchestra (founded in 1973 by the late Christopher Hogwood) is conducive to the ambience essential to such works. And then there’s the excellence of the singers – they are all superb with perhaps special mention made of James Gilchrist who dominates the piece and negotiates the fiendishly difficult tessitura of the Evangelist with inordinate ease. The principal ladies, Elizabeth Watts and Sarah Connolly are also in fine fettle, the latter almost stealing the show with a sublime rendition of ‘Erbarme dich mein Gott’ . . .”
“What essentially transpires is the billowing theatricality of a 17th century oratorio, encouraged by the use of Bach’s initial and rather more austere version of 1727, a text still to be given its final polish and yet exploited fully by Richard Egarr to encourage his singers to ‘enact’ emotions freely from within the heart of the imagery . . . “If some of the numbers alight a touch breathlessly on a conceit of disquieting urgency, then the considered placement of the narrative falls to the unassuming and unforced Evangelist of James Gilchrist; his is a supremely courageous and intelligent reading whose interaction with the human volatility of Matthew Rose’s Jesus is profoundly affecting . . . “The outstanding Elizabeth Watts and Sarah Connolly have their bigger moments (the latter’s ‘Erbarme dich’ is simply unmissable) but this [‘So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen’] is a Gordian knot as yet untied for mankind and its effect is as breathtaking as Fritz Lehmann’s revelatory reading . . . Bach’s later appoggiaturas may not have been a good idea on this evidence . . . “Egarr’s compellingly original vision of this greatest of all musical tombeaus, with its fresh anticipation founded on collective adrenaline and uniformly outstanding lyrical Bach-singing . . . is a triumph.”
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
“Richard Egarr has boldly chosen to record Bach’s first, 1727, version of the Passion, far less familiar than the 1736 revision – and not, he asserts, “work in progress. It is different.” The differences alone would make it a “must hear” recording, even if it were less admirably performed . . . Singing and playing are highly polished and assured throughout, with James Gilchrist superb as the Evangelist.” ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The Mail on Sunday
“For many serious music-lovers, listening to the St Matthew Passion at Easter is as vital as hearing Handel’s Messiah at Christmas. “There were two packed performances in London last weekend, at the Royal Festival Hall and at the Barbican, the latter featuring the Academy of Ancient Music under Richard Egarr, whose new own-label recording really hits the spot for me. This is also an opportunity to wave the flag, because every one of a distinguished roster of soloists is British, led by James Gilchrist’s eloquent Evangelist. “Matthew Rose is an imposing Jesus, and the arias at the heart of the work, which offer a deeply moving commentary on the Gospel, are exceptionally well sung by soprano Elizabeth Watts, alto Sarah Connolly, tenor Thomas Hobbs and bass Christopher Maltman. Egarr, both as harpsichordist and conductor, is the presiding genius here, presenting Bach’s original thoughts, as given in Leipzig on Good Friday 1727, rather than the 1736 revision normally performed. The 1736 version is more imposing, but the 1727 score has a touching simplicity. Its smaller scale brings spiritual benefits, for instance in the final bass aria, about Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross. Here Christopher Maltman is accompanied by a gentle lute rather than, as in the 1736 edition, a gruff viola da gamba. “These three CDs, at about £30, aren’t cheap, but that shouldn’t put you off an acquisition that will offer memorable listening for many Easters to come.” ★ ★ ★ ★
“The Academy of Ancient Music’s new recording of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, out in the nick of time for Easter, is no less worthy of a listen in the wake of the real-time festivities. Richard Egarr directs a performing version that adheres to Bach’s 1727 original, which unfortunately excludes the poignant choral climax to Part 1, “O Mensch, bewein”. But with James Gilchrist’s effortlessly emotive Evangelist, a strong deck of chorus and soloists that includes Matthew Rose as Jesus and the warm-voiced Sarah Connolly in the eternally beautiful “Erbarme dich”, and the sleek, eloquent playing of the period-instrument band, Egarr’s swift but touching interpretation is a seasonal delight.” ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
“Bach continued to revise the St Matthew Passion for a good 10 or 15 years after it was first performed at Leipzig on Good Friday 1727. This new recording by the Academy of Ancient Music and the Choir of the AAM, however, follows the original 1727 version … In common with modern thinking Richard Egarr keeps the pacing keen: the chorales are much less ponderously hymn-like than they can sometimes be in performance … Whereas the St John Passion embodies much more dramatic action than the St Matthew, the latter’s reflection, meditation and devotional calm is something that Egarr appreciates and conveys in this interpretation. Not that drama is neglected either: the confrontations between Jesus (Matthew Rose) and Peter (Richard Latham) and between Jesus and Pilate (Ashley Riches) are injected with conversational immediacy and with a sense of genuine human feeling … With the mellowness of period instruments and with James Gilchrist giving his naturally inflected, eloquently floated interpretation of the Evangelist, this is a timely release for the Passiontide and Easter season, and a welcome one.” ★ ★ ★ ★
“Much of what can be said about the St Matthew Passion has, of course, already been said, and its sheer musical power speaks for itself. Still, the Academy of Ancient Music’s new recording achieves the difficult task of bringing something new to the work … [this is a] profoundly moving response to the age-old story of Easter.” ★ ★ ★ ★
“This is a far more vital and dramatic account of Bach’s ‘Great Passion’ than the penitential one Egarr conducted a few years ago at Glyndebourne. Using his own period-instrument orchestra and chorus (of 20), it is a fine mainstream reading that makes no pious claims to ‘authenticity’. Even though none of the soloists is a native German-speaker, their diction is clear, and, in the cases of James Gilchrist’s Evangelist and Sarah Connolly’s mezzo-soprano, the handling of the text is both viscerally emotional and eloquent. Properly, the sequence of Peter’s denial and the succeeding aria, ‘Erbarme Dich’, with its consoling violin obbligato, becomes the spiritual and dramatic crux of the Passion story in these outstanding singers’ hands. Elizabeth Watts’s gleaming soprano, Thomas Hobbs clear tenor and Christopher Maltman’s bass shine, too, and Matthew Rose’s Jesus sounds earthier than usual.”
Album of the week BBC Radio 3
Disc of the week Financial Times
“This handsomely presented recording has a particular claim on our attention. The St Matthew Passion that Bach first performed on Good Friday 1727 was different in a few major respects, and many small ones, from what we usually hear today. Richard Egarr and the Academy of Ancient Music perform this early version with a heightened expressiveness that turns every lingering suspension into a twinge of pain. The performance is expert, light on its feet, not dogmatic. James Gilchrist is the Evangelist, Matthew Rose sings Jesus, and there is a fine quartet of soloists.”
“Like the operas of Mozart, the plays of Shakespeare or Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is on one hand so perfectly constructed that it is indestructible, and on the other, so flexible that it allows infinite interpretations. With two major recordings already this year, both using the first 1727 version, with its distinctive instrumentation, this masterpiece has an inexhaustible audience, too. James Gilchrist sings the Evangelist, with Matthew Rose, Elizabeth Watts, and Sarah Connolly among the other soloists in a closely recorded, intimate reading that at times feels like a whisper in the ear.” ★ ★ ★ ★