- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0 Stereo; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0
- Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Running Time: 173 minutes
- Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
- Studio: Arthaus Musik
- Blu-ray Release Date: March 26, 2013
- List Price: $39.99
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(The below TheaterByte screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG at 100% quality setting and are meant as a general representation of the content. They do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
Relatively hard on the heels of an excellent Matthäus-Passion from Bach’s own St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, comes this concert performance by Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Netherlands Radio Choir and National Children’s Choir led by Ivan Fischer. It has a complement of superb soloists, led by tenor Mark Padmore (Evangelist) and bass Peter Harvey (Christ). Rounding out the cast are sopranos Maria Espada, and Renate Arends, mezzo-sopranos Ingeborg Danz and Barabar Kozelj, tenor Peter Gijsbertsen and Bass Henk Neven. The St. Matthew Passion is one of the essential choral works in the repertory and lends itself to a variety of musical presentations. In the present 2012 performance we get a large chorus and orchestra. What is magical about this version is how maestro Fischer takes his Concertgebouw ensemble and makes them sound like a chamber orchestra, allowing the soloists to soar without obvious effort.
Director Dick Kuijs avoids the common ploy of having his cameras frenetically jump back and forth between close up and distant shots to give us an artificial sense of motion. We actually get to stay for more than a few nanoseconds with vocal and instrumental soloists! Colors are well managed and details, naturally clear.
The sound of soloists, choristers, and orchestra is well balanced, giving a good sense of atmosphere. Surprisingly, there is little ambient information in the surround channels of the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 score.
Arthaus stiffs us on the extras, not even trailers.
The Definitive Word
Given the popularity of the Matthäus-Passion in today’s performance circles, there is a rather small catalog of Blu-ray versions currently available. The Berlin Philharmonic/Simon Rattle performance, “ritualized” by Peter Sellars offers a strong group of soloists but appears to be currently unavailable. The other Blu-ray contender, the St. Thomas Church Leipzig performance has been reviewed on this site and offers a scaled down orchestral approach with some “adequate if not stellar” solo performers. This new Concertgebouw offering has put most of the performance pieces together. The soloists are clearly better than their Leipzig competitors and conductor Fischer, often seeing gazing heavenward as if for inspiration, imbues this score with the extraterrestrial feeling intended by its composer. Quite well shot by the cameramen, I was struck by the lack of ambience in the surround version. Not a show-stopper as the upfront audio was certainly excellent, just a little surprising by today’s standards. How to choose, you might ask? In some respects, the comparison between the two extant Blu-ray versions is a bit of an apples versus oranges puzzle. The Leipzig performance gives us the essence of this magnificent work much as its composer would have heard it performed in his lifetime. The Amsterdam performance transports us to a large hall complete with modern instruments and a superior set of soloists. In the end, this is a real case of each to his or her own taste. The true Bach believers will eventually want to acquire both discs.
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[Rating:[Rating:4.5/5]> The Performance
[Rating:[Rating:4.5/5] Video Quality
[Rating:[Rating:4.5/5] Audio Quality
[Rating:[Rating:4/5] Supplemental Materials