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Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, April 2012

This appears to be the last installment of Hillier’s admirable Schutz series which has focused on the dramatic and narrative scores of this unheralded master. Those coming to this music expecting to hear a dumbed-down or slightly earlier St. Matthew like that of Bach will be disappointed…Schutz concentrates on the narrative almost exclusively, relegating the chorus to sections of mostly four voices that are metrical and regular, and harmonized—something that the narrative portions, which make up the vast majority of the piece, do not have.

As a result of this Spartan approach, most of the “story” is bare-boned and reliant on the composer’s not inconsiderable ability to project the essence of the drama in the figurations and curvature of the melody itself, along with the supple and nuanced projection of the soloists. The absence of instruments only heightens our awareness of the textual element in the composition.

Hillier and his Copenhagen players are born to this music, almost intuitively knowing how to perform it while not stripping it of its liturgical rightness and place. All the singers, with few exceptions, double in the “roles” as well, and each is highly trained and skilled in the style of the time. The sound is perfectly gauged to Hillier’s complex performance requirements, and this is a fitting conclusion to a memorable series. © 2012 Audiophile Audition Read complete review

J. F. Weber
Fanfare, September 2011

Finally, we now have a new St. Matthew Passion, the most expansive (because the Gospel text is so long), the most harmonically advanced, and the finest of all these works. While the Easter history was an early work (1623) and Die sieben Worte dated from 1645, the other four were all written around his 80th year, and this was probably the climactic achievement. Hillier did well to save it for last. Anyone who knows Hillier’s extensive discography will appreciate his remark that he chose to record these six works because he is “interested in singing stories.”

This is close to a simple remake (the timing is virtually the same), for the Hilliard Ensemble had been augmented to 12 voices for the earlier version, including the two principal soloists, while here Hillier is directing a total of 14 singers, including Julian Podger as the Evangelist and Jacob Bloch Jespersen as Christus; the other dozen make up the chorus, with the other solo singers selected from the group, as was done the first time. Jespersen has sung the Christus or other major solos in all the previous works in this series, while Hillier deliberately chose a different Evangelist for each Passion. The style of Hillier’s two recordings is distinctly different from one of the most admired of the earlier versions, the Hugo Distler Choir of 53 voices directed by Klaus Fischer-Dieskau…

This new series of recordings was connected with the concert series that the ensemble gives in Copenhagen. Indeed, Hillier wondered how his audiences would react to four annual Easter concerts focusing on three Passions and the Easter history, all by Schütz (it was not a problem, he says). In between the two Hillier versions, I can count only three others, and Matteo Messori’s (30:5) is the only one that has come for review. Messori’s is similar to this with two main soloists and eight singers taking the chorus and minor solos. If Messori played organ, as his sleeve credits him, it would make a difference, but in fact he does this only in the brief filler (SWV 443). Messori’s boxed set contains five of Hillier’s six major works and may be somewhat less expensive than four Dacapo discs if you can find it. But if you know how superb Hillier’s three earlier discs are, this one will be hard to pass up. It should be the version of reference.

Peter Loewen
American Record Guide, September 2011

It is quite a remarkable experience… And how much more satisfying as a result are the choral passages that begin, intercede, and especially close the drama. It is an exhilarating performance, to say the least. Texts and notes are in English.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

David Vickers
Gramophone, June 2011

Hillier recorded Schütz’s St Matthew Passion with the Hilliard Ensemble for EMI many moons ago (nla) and his return to it completes Ars Nova Copenhagen’s exceptional series of the Dresden Kapellmeister’s narrative works. Julian Podger’s Evangelist and Jacob Bloch Jespersen’s Jesus are authoritative, particularly in the compellingly emotive section around Christ’s “Eli, Eli, lama asabthani?”. Individual step-outs ensure that chanting is dramatically engaged and the consort singing is flawless.

MusicWeb International, May 2011

This is the last of four CDs on Dacapo by Ars Nova Copenhagen under Paul Hillier devoted to the ‘narrative’ choral works of Heinrich Schütz.

Schütz’s setting of St Matthew—or to give it his full title, Das Leiden unsers Herren Jesu Christi, wie es beschreibet der heilige Evangeliste Matthaeus—is never going to have the same broad appeal as Bach’s. For all his Lutheranism, Bach’s music, partly as a product of his times, was much less austere than that of Schütz. With this Passion, Schütz’s music becomes almost monastic in its self-discipline: the only polyphony—musical ‘excitement’, as it were—comes from the occasional, but frequently powerful interjections by various grouped parts. One can hear this, in particular, in the Multitude and the Jews in later sections, and the ‘congregation’ in the poignant Kyrie eleison right at the very conclusion.

By contrast, both the Evangelist’s and especially Christ’s parts are almost ascetic—pared down to discreetly inflected, sober recitative. Moreover, because so much of the music in the Passion is sung by these two roles, the extent to which anyone enjoys any given performance is likely to depend a great deal on one’s opinion of the voices of Jesus and the Evangelist. In this recording, that means English tenor Julian Podger as the latter and Danish bass Jacob Bloch Jespersen as Jesus. There is always an element of risk in assigning key roles to non-native speakers of the language of a text, but it is hard to imagine any objections to Podger, whose clear, expressive voice should please all agnostics, and whose German upbringing has given him a faultless accent.

But Jespersen is another matter: in longer passages—of which there are many—his voice has just a little of the quality of someone with a head cold, and his Jesus can come across as a trifle dour. Furthermore, his German pronunciation, though certainly very good, does contain a few slips which give Jesus a bit of a foreign accent at times—perhaps enough of one to grate mildly on German speakers.

At one point Jespersen’s mispronunciation makes a grammatical error: where he sings “Stehet auf, lass uns gehen”—plural command form followed by singular—instead of “Stehet auf, lasst uns gehen” halfway through Track 3. There are a few minor typing errors anyway in both languages of the text of the Gospel—thoughtfully included in the booklet—as well as some inconsequential differences between the German text as published and the one used by the singers. In Track 3, Jesus sings: “Mein Vater, ist es nicht möglich…”, but the ‘nicht’ is not present in the text.

The CD booklet is otherwise excellent. Apart from the full text, there are two fine essays on the music and detailed biographies of performers—34 pages of print in total.

The recording is almost superb—the nowadays ubiquitous rumble of road traffic only occasionally and very faintly intrudes upon the beautiful voices of Ars Nova Copenhagen floating in the lovely acoustic of the Garnison Church.

Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, April 2011

Like the Lukas-Passion (8.226019) and the Johannes-Passion, which Ars Nova and Paul Hillier have also recorded for daCapo, the Matthew Passion is a starkly simple affair, partly because the 40 Years’ War had depleted the resources on which Schütz was able to call and partly because the use of instruments was forbidden in services at the Dresden court in Holy Week. Nevertheless, all concerned make the music much more varied and dramatic than the Norrington version which used to be available on Decca (last seen on 436 221-2), largely because Julian Podger is much better suited to the role of Evangelist than Peter Pears, whose voice allowed of too little variety. Hillier also moves the music along much more effectively than Norrington.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2011

With this recording of the St Matthew Passion we come to the end of an outstanding traversal of choral music by the German composer, Heinrich Schutz. It originates from Denmark who claim a portion of a composer who spent just four years in Copenhagen. Yet in that time he initiated much of the emergence of music in the 17th century Denmark. In his notes that accompany the disc, the conductor, Paul Hillier, states that the series has contained the singing stories of Schutz, a composer who is revered in the world of vocal music, but one who receives precious few performances. That has more to do with practicalities, most of his works being short and requiring very different forces. He has therefore chosen the most extensive scores for the series, but has saved the great St Matthew Passion for his final installment. Dating from 1666, it is an early example of the story related in unaccompanied notation that links choral sections usually divided into four voices. At the time it was revelatory, the two solo singers having vast stretches of musical dialogue. Maybe you will feel, as I do, that it was a good reason why the Schutz era was so quickly replaced by the music of Handel, who continued the use of recitatives—but in moderation. Here we have to praise Julian Podger, as the Evangelist, and Jacob Bloch Jespersen, as Christus for retaining listener attention. When the Ars Nova Copenhagen briefly appear it is usually in the mode of short self-contained motets. Excellently performed and immaculately recorded, it will be an important release to those interested in this era.

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