Ton Koopman has recorded Bach's St. Matthew Passion twice, and in many ways, he seems to have changed his mind about the work. His 1992 recording for Erato was, for an original instrument/historically informed performance, large in scale, broad in scope, dramatic in execution, and heavy in sound. This, his 2005 recording for Antonie Marchand, is likewise an original instrument/historically informed performance, but it is more intimate in scale, more concentrated in scope, and lighter in sound. But, even with these changes, Koopman's second Matthew Passion is not only still dramatic in execution, it is far more dramatic in execution, and thus in its way even more compelling. Musically, both performances are superb. Both times, Koopman uses his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir, a strong and supple instrument completely responsive to his direction, but the later recording's smaller-sized ensemble makes the music sound just as colorful but clearer and more light-filled. Except for bass Klaus Mertens, Koopman uses entirely different but equally effective soloists for each recording, but with slightly quicker tempos and more pointed recitatives, the later soloists are much more dramatically effective. Koopman's interpretation has not fundamentally changed -- clearly, he still views the work as the most sublime and transcendent sacred musical work in the history of humanity, a view both performances are highly persuasive in arguing -- but he here seems to view the work as all that plus a compelling drama. For listeners who grew up with the Karajan or Solti recordings of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, the idea of an original instrument/ istorically informed performance being described as large, broad, or heavy may seem unlikely, and they are advised to seek out Koopman's 1992 recording for evidence to the contrary. But for listeners who already accept original instrument/historically informed performances and who are looking for a recording that emphasizes the work's dramatic qualities, the 2005 Koopman is the one to hear.
Bach: Matthäus Passion  Review
by James Leonard