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J Scott Morrison
- Publié sur Amazon.com
This performance is legendary for a number of reasons. Willem Mengelberg (1871-1951), the long-time conductor of Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra and now known primarily because he was the first champion of Mahler's music outside Austria and Germany, had been conducting a yearly performance of Bach's mighty 'St. Matthew Passion' since 1899. This performance, broadcast over Dutch Radio on Palm Sunday of 1939, was to be his last. The horrors of World War II were about to rock Europe and his country was soon occupied by German troops. (Indeed, one of the soloists in this performance, bass Herman Schey, a Jew, spent the duration of the War in hiding inside Holland.) This recording was the first to be made in its original German; a version in English, conducted by Serge Koussevitsky, had been made in Boston in 1937 but was in horrible sound. Also, this recording was made using an unusual process, the so-called Philips Miller system that used a black-coated celluloid film which was etched in the recording process by a sapphire stylus and then read back optically; a similar process had been in use in the film industry for a few years. The sound obtained was an advance on the usual recording processes then commonly in use. Indeed, a technically adequate recording made using the Philips Miller technique sounded as good as audiotape recordings made as late as the 1950s. It allowed for longer takes and obtained a much wider dynamic range than was common in the 1930s. This transfer, made by the redoubtable Mark Obert-Thorn, used pristine Dutch pressings.
The performance presented here is controversial in these days of so-called authentic Baroque performance practice. It is in the grand manner that was common in its day. The chorus is huge, the orchestra is the full Concertgebouw. The manner of the performance is Romantic, even elephantine, but there is a grandeur and reverence that still makes its effect in these more 'enlightened' days of fleet performances with smaller forces. It may be helpful to think of this performance as operatic. There is no question that the points of the story of the Passion are made in dramatic fashion here. The cast of soloists is outstanding. Karl Erb is a dramatically apt Evangelist. Bass Willem Ravelli sings a manly and dulcet-voiced Jesus. The solo quartet - Jo Vincent, soprano; Ilona Durigo, contralto; Louis van Tulder, tenor, and Herman Schey, bass - are quite effective. The chorus, the combined Amsterdam Toonkunst Choir and the Zanglust Boys' Choir, are spectacular; my only complaint is that the forces are so large that when the chorus bursts in with the crowd interjections it fair makes one jump out of their chair. Mengelberg conducts with complete control, taking quite slow tempi much of the time while molding phrasing and dynamics in echt-romantisch style.
There are some small cuts in the complete score. The largest cut begins at the middle of No. 49 and jumps to No. 54. No sung texts are included. I don't see this as a significant problem as I cannot imagine that this will be anyone's only recording of the Passion. I suspect this release will be valuable primarily to Bach enthusiasts, Mengelberg collectors (of which there is a growing number these days), and people with a musicological bent. But make no mistake, this is an extremely moving performance of this masterwork. I will admit that I am less than sold on current performance practice of this and similar works; maybe it's because I'm of a certain age and came to love these works in recordings that are now considered old-fashioned. So be it; I know I am not alone in this feeling.
Included in this 3CD set are also recordings, again in the old-fashioned manner, of Mengelberg conducting the Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067 (rec. 1931), Telico's arrangement of the 'Air for the G String,' from Suite No. 3, BWV 1068 (rec. 1938), and the Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins, BWV 1010 (with Louis Zimmermann and Ferdinand Helman, violinists; rec. 1935), all with the Concertgebouw. Also included is a rarity, Mahler's arrangement of the Air for the G String played by the New York Philharmonic under Mengelberg and recorded in 1929, the last year he was their conductor.
TT: 3CDs, 3:27:26