Good Friday Special: St. Matthew Passion

Good Friday evening at 8 on Classical 101(Photo: EMI/Odeon)
Good Friday evening at 8 on Classical 101(Photo: EMI/Odeon)

I hope this will become a Classical 101 tradition – a broadcast of J.S. Bach’s Matthauspassion, The Passion According to Matthew.

This is the most celebrated and the richest of all the Passion oratorios. Bach had this performed first at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig on Good Friday in 1729.

As resident Cantor, Bach supervised the training of choristers, two choirs, two organists and was required to compose new music for each Sunday service.

Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is often mentioned as a ‘desert island’ choice. Music lovers admire its piety and sense of devotion. As well, Bach, who wrote no operas, had a dramatic flair used to devastating effect

Classical 101 defies convention on Good Friday by proving “everything old is new again.” I’ve chosen the performance conducted by Otto Klemperer. Peter Pears sings the Evangelist and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Jesus. The soloists are Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano Nicolai Gedda, tenor and Walter Berry bass.

This is a large-scale performance, slow and thoughtful. Some find it antiquated, with a bloated chorus and orchestra and dragging tempo. Not me. I recognize that it would be difficult to perform Bach a la Klemperer today. We’ve become used to smaller forces and a clearer orchestration, based on Bach’s original performances. But many of us grew up on this performance style and with this great performance in particular. It’s time to share what moved the world of music so deeply over 50 years ago.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion complete, conducted by Otto Klemperer on Classical 101, this Friday April 18 at 8 p.m.