Veldhoven adds extra layers to Bach

Jos van Veldhoven heightens the contrasts in Bach’s masterpiece the St Matthew Passion with extra singers

Composer: Bach
Repertoire:  St Matthew Passion
Artists: The Netherlands Bach Society/ Jos van Veldhoven
Rating:  4/5
Genre: Choral
Label: Channel Classics CCSSA32511

The Music: If a ‘Seven Wonders of the Musical World’ were compiled, this passion would undoubtedly feature. Firstly, it’s a feat of musical structural engineering: almost three hours of chorales and arias, performed by soloists, double choir and double orchestra, in a myriad of contrasting textures and groupings. Secondly, it’s one of the most beautiful, profound works ever composed.

The Performance: Strong performances characterise this live recording, but one specific aspect may prove to be the deciding factor for prospective buyers. Veldhoven heightens the contrasts in Bach’s score by adding eight extra singers to the four Choir I soloists, and keeping Choir II a foursome. It’s an effective device. However, he then places these two groups 10 metres apart, sitting the audience between them. Listen in multichannel and this effect has been recreated, Choir II sounding from the surround speakers and Choir I remaining in front. Some may find it enhances their at-home listening experience but others may find it off-putting.

The Verdict: This isn’t the best of the recent St Matthew Passion recordings, but it still holds its own. Really though, it’s one for lovers of religious art, as the sumptuous booklet is rich with commentary and illustration of passion-related paintings.

Want more? Bach’s St John Passion maybe less performed, but it’s well worth getting to know. Try John Eliot Gardiner’s superlative recording (Soli Deo Gloria, SDG712).