Recorded live at the St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, this performance is a great success in just about every respect. When you perform such a lengthy and difficult choral work that uses a boys choir, numerous vocal soloists, and an orchestra, it is always a challenge. Yet, everyone sings splendidly here, and the members of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra play with accuracy and commitment under conductor Georg Christoph Biller, who is consistently able to infuse the music with energy and a sense for the work's profundity and religiosity. I can only imagine that all these forces spent considerable rehearsal time to deliver such a commited and seemingly perfect rendition of this masterpiece. Among the soloists, Christina Landshamer and Stefan Kahle are especially fine in their taxing roles. The St. Thomas Boys Choir is a highly respected ensemble, and it shows in their alertness to detail and spirited vocal manner. Dare I ask in digressing a moment, why is it that so many German and Austrian boys choirs wear sailor uniforms, as this group does?
There are, of course, dozens of recordings of the St. Matthew Passion, including several on video. In 2011 Kultur Video issued a 1990 live performance featuring Hermann Prey and Margaret Marshall, with Enoch zu Guttenberg leading the Munich Bach Collegium and Neubeuern Choral Society. That was also an excellent effort, but this new Accentus Blu-ray disc features sound and camera work that are vastly superior. For those who may not be aware, the acoustics in St. Thomas Church are first rate, and the placement of cameras there for this performance by Director Michael Beyer was obviously wisely done. Compared with live operas and other concerts on Blu-ray, this one, performed from the church's loft, was recorded both sonically and visually about as well as any I've encountered.
In sum, it would be difficult to imagine a more convincing video offering of Bach's magnificent work than this one from Accentus. Bach mavens and sacred music lovers should find this a most welcome addition to their libraries. This is a monument to Bach and to music!
Copyright © 2012, Robert Cummings