The 'Saint Matthew Passion' represents the culmination of Bach's achievement as a church musician and commands a reverence and respect almost without parallel in western sacred music. A dramatic, quasi-operatic oratorio on an epic scale, it calls for six soloists, two choirs, two orchestras and organs, combining arias, recitatives, chorales and concertato passages united by the imposing central religious theme.
This recording documents an unusual performance from 1962 of an abridged English language version. While one might not think of Leonard Bernstein as a likely conductor of this material, he did perform nearly all the great sacred choral works from Haydn onward, recorded a pretty good 'Messiah' and indeed, brings a lot to this music. The orchestra is big but tempos are not unduly cumbersome and rhythmic detail, not to mention much of the beautiful woodwind writing, comes freshly to the fore. What really is winning is the sense of occasion and theatricality--this is Bernstein, after all--and the recitatives being sung in English will add to the immediacy of the communication for many listeners.