Heinrich Schütz: Matthäus-Passion
01 June 2011
17th-century Dresden, musical instruments were required to remain silent at the
court chapel during Holy Week, so the voices of Schütz's St Matthew Passion are
entirely unaccompanied. All of the narrative by the Evangelist and
contributions from individual characters are intoned chants, and only the
introit, crowd scenes and conclusion are set in harmonic polyphony. Within such
austere parameters Schütz creates a narrative that is poignant and solemn, but
as natural consequence the occasional unfolding into harmony acquires enhanced
dramatic potency (the multitude shouting at Pilate to free Barabbas) or
profound beauty (the soldiers acknowledging "Truly this was the Son of God").
Hillier recorded Schütz's St Matthews Passion with the Hilliard Ensemble for
EMI moons ago (nla) and his return to it completes Ars Nova Copenhagen's
exceptional series of the Dresden Kapellmeister's narrative works.
Podger's Evangelist and Jakob Bloch Jespersen's Jesus are authoritative,
particularly in the compelling emotive section around Christ's "Eli, Eli, lama
asabthani?". Individual step-outs ensure that chanting is dramatically engaged
and the consort singing is flawless.
This is an extract from a double-review in Gramophone, June 2011.