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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Bach: St. Matthew Passion

04/13/2014 1:00 pm
04/13/2014 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

I have presented Bach's immortal St. Matthew Passion (1727) multiple times on Palm Sunday over the course of three decades-plus of lyric theater broadcasting. There are plenty of recordings of it in circulation. I could have gone with Rene Jacobs' new recorded interpretation for the Harmonia Mundi label (2013, Akademie fur Alte Musik, Berlin and RIAS Kammerchor).

I opted this Palm Sunday not to air the great masterpiece in its original German language, as I always had done previously, but to present the Passion-oratorio in English translation and performed by all-English forces. On Good Friday, 2009 the Ex Cathedra ensemble of Birmingham in the English Midlands recorded the St. Matthew Passion live in performance in Birmingham's Symphony Hall. Jeffrey Skidmore directed the period instrument orchestra and a considerable choral body, from which, as in Bach's time, the best choral voices step forward in solo capacity to portray the characters in the Passion drama.

This is a "historically informed" interpretation of the music, but certainly not a slim, one-voice to-a-part affair. In 1911 the English composer Sir Edward Elgar made a serviceable translation of the German text. Ex Cathedra drew upon a new translation by Nicholas Fisher and John Russell that is more contemporary in its wording. This English St. Matthew Passion was released in 2009 on two compact discs under the Orchid Classics label.