Matthew PassionMarch 21 is J.S. Bach’s birthday (his 323rd) and this year it falls on Good Friday. The Scottish-based Dunedin Consort, whose 2006 recording of Messiah is easily one of the strongest and most striking versions on disc, has just released Bach’s Matthew Passion, so this seems a very appropriate moment to draw attention to it. Their Matthew Passion is notable on several accounts. First, it’s the first recording the use the version of the score that Bach prepared for his final performance of the work in Leipzig around 1742. The oratorio is scored for double chorus, double orchestra, and soloists. This version departs from the standard edition in its use of a harpsichord, rather than an organ in the second orchestra, providing an expanded timbral palette, and the addition of a part for viola da gamba in the second orchestra. Conductor John Butt doesn’t claim that this is the authoritative, “correct” version of the score, but it’s one that Bach did create, and therefore deserves to be heard. A second distinction of the recording is Butt’s decision to use one singer on a part, making the choral forces a double quartet, and drawing the principal soloists, including the central roles of the Evangelist and Jesus, from the chorus. The result is wonderfully transparent and intimate, allowing the listener to hear the work in a new way. A third is the superlative quality of the performance. Butt’s reading of the score emphasizes the propulsive nature of the narrative, but is never hurried, allowing its slow moments to be fully expansive. The quality of the soloists/chorus is absolutely first rate, and it’s their contribution that makes this recording so moving and memorable. They sing with youthful freshness, dramatic power, beautifully unforced tone, and complete naturalness. Anyone looking to celebrate Bach’s birthday or to commemorate Good Friday should look into the Dunedin Consort’s outstanding version of one of the composer’s greatest and most deeply devotional works.

Dunedin Consort -- Matthew Passion: Kommt ihr Töchter
Dunedin Consort -- Matthew Passion: Da Jesus diese Rede vollendet hatte (Nicholas Mulroy & Matthew Brook)
Dunedin Consort -- Matthew Passion: Buss und Reu (Claire Wilkinson)
Dunedin Consort -- Matthew Passion: Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen
Dunedin Consort -- Matthew Passion: Ach, nun ist mein Jesus hin!
Dunedin Consort -- Matthew Passion: Am Abend, da es kühle war (Mathew Brook)
Dunedin Consort -- Matthew Passion: Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder