Some say that St Matthew Passion is a sort of biblical western. It features, as director Pasolini showed so well, a revolutionary Christ freshly arrived in Roman-occupied Palestine.
The wide landscapes of the West – or rather, the Middle East – are rendered through not only two choirs but also two orchestras, not to mention six different soloists and a whole maîtrise. Bach is almost the predecessor to Cecil B. de Mille's peplums and to Dolby Stereo™.
Action? Why yes, one of the best scripts ever written, the Gospel of Matthew. Sets? Amazing orchestral storms. But where is the camera, you ask – it is the point of view adopted by the composer: the sublime arias, the solos, alternately virtuoso and meditative, the fervent choir moments expressing solidarity.
Experienced oratorio director John Nelson will be joined by wonderful singers for this piece, starting with Werner Güra, the Evangelist tenor of the moment. He is the singer-narrator, the one who tells the story; Bach's work seems destined for him. His Christmas oratorio with Harnoncourt has become a reference, and he just recorded a version of this Passion with Herreweghe.
Like Saint-Denis' Basilica, the St Matthew Passion carries the weight of a strong history. Like the Basilica, it is a monumental achievement, a construction elevating the soul.
Materials courtesy of Soli Deo Gloria, Inc. Soli Deo Gloria, Inc.– Soli Deo Gloria on Facebook
Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic, Netherlands Radio Choir
Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Gulbenkian Choir