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That Bach’s St Matthew Passion is so beloved and known today is down in no small part to the efforts of Felix Mendelssohn and his mentor Carl Zelter, who reintroduced the work to the German public in 1829. From there, performances became widespread across Germany and other parts of Europe, and in 1841 Mendelssohn conducted a performance of the work in Bach’s own church, the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.

Mendelssohn, in preparing his performance version, made several cuts and alterations to Bach’s original text (turn to page 42 for a review of the new Bärenreiter edition of Mendelssohn’s version), ones which might horrify/ upset us today but which, in his mind, were necessary in order to make the piece more palatable to his contemporaries. This recording is of the 1841 version, albeit with modern instruments, and overall it’s very good. Tempos are, on the whole, fairly broad, although nothing drags; the orchestra are sprightly and responsive when needed, although a weighty continuo group does sometimes overbalance the recitatives.

The principal soloists all sing forthrightly — Evangelist Jörg Dürmüller is the best of the bunch (he also performs the tenor arias), although his Christus Marcos Fink is at times uncomfortable with the upper range of the part. On the whole, this would be a useful (and not disappointing) acquisition for those keenly interested in the performance history of the St Matthew Passion, but I wouldn’t choose it as an introduction to the work.

Adrian Horsewood Read the full review on Agora Classica


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