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  Harmonia Mundi -
  HMC 802156/58 (3 discs)
  Bach: St Matthew Passion - Jacobs
  Bach: St Matthew Passion

Werner Güra, Johannes Weisser, Sunhae Im, Bernarda Fink, Topi Lehtipuu, Konstantin Wolff
RIAS Kammerchor
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
René Jacobs
Track listing:
  Classical - Vocal
Recording type:
Recording info:
  2 SACDs + 1 DVD

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Reviews: 3

Site review by Geohominid October 29, 2013
Performance:   Sonics:    
The text for this review has been moved to the new site. You can read it here:

Review by jeff3948 November 16, 2013 (10 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
What Rene has achieved here is a very deeply felt, flowing and dramatic interpretation.

Technical Specifications:
Recorded Edited and mixed with Merging Technologies Horus and Pyramix
Recorded at 96kHz/24 bit with 32 microphones connected to Horus
Recording Venue: Teldex Studios, Berlin
Recording Dates: August and September 2012
Multi-Channel = 5.1 channels

When I first got this SACD set, I first looked at the recording venue used. When I saw it was the Teldex studio Berlin, I thought "oh no, why didn't they use a church?!". However, my disappointment quickly evaporated as I listened to the first few minutes and discovered the most gorgeous MULTI-CHANNEL sound of the St. Matthew Passion yet recorded. The sound is detailed, warm and spacious at the same time with a nice reverberation time of about 3 seconds which makes it sound as if it was recorded in a church. For the SACD multi-channel sound, Rene has decided to place Choir I (24), Orch I (23) and Soloists I in the front and closer to the listener and a smaller slightly more distant sounding Choir II (12), smaller Orch II (14) and Soloists II in the rear. This was done in a similar way in the SACD multi-channel recording by The Netherlands Bach Society, except, this recording sounds warmer, more luxurious and more detailed. This is similar to how Bach would have performed it in St. Thomas Church with it's two organ lofts at opposite ends of the Nave. By the way, the main organ loft is large enough to hold a multi per part medium choir and medium size orchestra, and the smaller organ and loft which used to exist are small and would only be able to hold a dozen to 18 people, so I question the "one person per part" research that claims that Bach would still only have one person per part, especially on large important occasions such as Easter when the Passions would have been performed. I have given the MULTI-CHANNEL version 5 stars. However, in this recording the STEREO SACD and CD layer versions, group I and group II both sound from the 2 front stereo speakers but they are not placed left and right, both choirs, orchestras and soloists come from the left and right speakers but group II is softer and more distant so that is the only way you can differentiate them. In my opinion this was a mistake by the HM artistic director, as it makes for a somewhat unsatisfying stereo recording of this work. However, upon re-listening to this in plain stereo, the sound is very good indeed and the more distant group II does work. That is why I have raised the stereo version recorded quality from 3 to 4 stars.

Rene's interpretation of Bach's St. Matthew Passion is in the same tradition of Leonhardt's DHM recording, Gardiner's recording and what little drama there was in the Harnoncourt's recording (specifically the storm Chorus No. 27b "Sind Blitze, sind Donner" were Harnoncourt starts softly and builds the volume, Rene does it much better with more tension and drama and that wonderful reverberation during the pause), which use medium size multiple persons per part choirs, Boy's Choir and original instrument orchestras, no single person per part here. Rene takes the delicacy of Leonhardt's DHM recording in which Rene Jacobs sang the Alto part except with more drama where needed. Rene's orchestra, The Academy for Ancient Music Berlin sounds gorgeous. Berhard Forch, the leader, gives us some enchanting violin solos. Rene adds a lute and harpsichord in the array of continuo instruments in addition to the organ, cello and viola da gamba. The other instrumental soloists are of very high quality. The vocal soloists in general are of high quality too. Werner Gura is a very good Evangelist that portrays the story with delicacy and depth. Johannes Weisser is an unusual choice for Jesus. In the documentation he is listed as a Bass, but when listening to him sing he is definitely a baritone. His portrayal of Jesus is more sensitive and delicate than most others which use a strong commanding style. At first I was taken aback with this different style, because I was so used to the deep authoritative style of others. Come to think about it, when I first heard the St. Matthew Passion about 40 years ago, I was taken aback in the opposite way in that I never thought Jesus should sound so commanding and deep. I commend Johannes Weisser for taking a different approach here and it really works well. Bernarda Fink, as usual, gives us a wonderful alto. Sunhae Im gives a somewhat weak and uneven toned performance as the Soprano I. She has a pleasant voice but her low notes are weak and her vibrato is slightly uncontrolled. Also, her voice is slightly drowned out by the wind instruments now and then during the soft passages. My favorite soprano for the two Soprano I arias are Emma Kirkby (on a CD/DVD combo released by House of Classics from a 1993 live recording from King's College Cambridge with the Brandenburg Consort) and Christine Schäfer (from Harnoncourt's 2001 Teldec recording). I will not get into the remaining details of the work because I urge you to discover the drama and beauty yourself, except for one that I feel compelled to comment on; the performance of No. 65 "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein" (sung by Konstatin Wolff, bass-baritone) that comes after Jesus death is the most beautiful I have ever heard. Overall, I have given the performance a little above 4-1/2 stars.

At the end of SACD 2 there is a second version of the recitative and Aria for Bass Nos. 56 & 57 with the viola da Gamba replacing the lute. Both are absolutely gorgeous and moving to the soul!

Extra DVD
The extra DVD is an interesting documentary on Rene's and the other performers' interpretation of the work that lasts for 46 minutes.

I usually do not comment on the booklet, but I had to say that the English translation from the original German libretto is the worst I have ever read. Many errors occur throughout the text. However, Rene Jacobs essay on Bach's St. Matthew Passion is easy to read, intriguing, very informative, and enlightening.

I highly recommend this recording especially in SACD MULTI-CHANNEL Surround sound. Rene and Harmonia Mundi has given us a deeply moving, beautifully nuanced, and flowing performance that you just don't want to end. Overall I would rate the performance at 4.5 stars and the multi-channel recording at 4.8 stars which would average up to 5 stars here on

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Review by joheirba November 23, 2013 (5 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
I'll keep it short. René Jacobs version is miles away from the more traditional "oratorio" versions of the work that I know. Jesus last days and death aren't told, but played. It's as if you're assisting, eyes closed, to an opera - in the very best sense of the word - telling Jesus passion. All the drama, all the emotions are there. Yet, there's plenty of room for reflection. Typically, the contemplative parts - including the opening chorus - are rather slow, giving you as a listener plenty of time to enjoy the music, the message and the build-up of tension within the work. The opening chorus nearly makes me forget to breathe every time I hear it. The soloists, incarnating the different characters, are much more livid, with some very fast tempi. It took me some time to get used to it, but the quality of the phrasing and René Jacobs ability to exactly know how far he can push his singers, quite fast convinced me to put behind me the more traditional approaches I've been used to, and to simply enjoy his way of bringing this music. In the end, it's as if a new world opened up to my ears !

The sound quality also is outstanding. The lute (or is it a theorbo), flutes and organ are rendered very clear, without any crispation. A real pleasure !

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Works: 1  

Johann Sebastian Bach - Matthäuspassion, BWV 244 (St Matthew Passion)