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Johann Sebastian Bach: Matthäus-Passion [Biller/Thomanerchor/Gewandhausorchester] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080i/60
  • Audio Codec: PCM 2.0 Stereo; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Subtitles: English, French, German, Korean
  • Region: ABC (Region-Free)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
  • Studio: Accentus Music
  • Blu-ray Release Date: September 25, 2012
  • List Price: $39.99

Overall
[Rating:4.5/5]
The Film
[Rating:4.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:0/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(All 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)

The Film

[Rating:4/5]


Of the several Passions that Johann Sebastian Bach was believed to have written, only two, the St. John Passion and the St. Matthew Passion are extant. The Matthäus-Passion is a monumental work in two parts, running for slightly over two and a half hours. In this 2012 performance, filmed fittingly in Bach’s own St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, and featuring the legendary boys’ choir, we are suddenly transported back three centuries. Bach’s retelling of Jesus’s final days is based on the St. Matthew Gospel although there are numerous interpolated original recitatives and arias. Georg Christoph Biller, the choir master as well as conductor, welcomes back three Thomaner graduates, Stefan Kahle (alto), and tenors Wolfram Lattke (the Evangelist) and Martin Lattke (Arias). Basses Klaus Mertens and Gotthold Schwarz portray Jesus and Pontius Pilate, respectively. Soprano Christina Landshamen, the lone female, completes the vocal ensemble.

Video Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

Having only seen this work in a traditional orchestra hall, I was completely taken with the choir loft setting, its original staging. Michael Beyer, one of the best video directors around, gives us enough different angles, close-ups, and distance shots that the Passion becomes a dynamic rather than static work. Colors and details are well managed.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

With a boys’ choir and relatively lighter-voiced soloists, accompanied by a period-appropriate orchestra, mostly strings, winds and church organ, one gets the ethereal quality of this sacred music. Instrumental details are easily heard against the backdrop of what is the wonderful acoustic of the St. Thomas Church.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:0/5]

Accentus Music has often given us some nice extras, but not this time.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4/5]

Many music lovers know Bach best from his frequently played works for solo instruments and small ensembles.  As cantor of Leipzig, Bach was a prolific composer of sacred vocal pieces, including over two hundred cantatas, a great mass, and two huge Passions. Some of the music in this St. Matthew’s Passion will have a familiar ring as it seems borrowed from other works, a common practice in Bach’s day. From a performance standpoint, it is about as authentic a rendition as one is likely to get, considering the location, and orchestral and vocal forces. This is the only BD version, and it is visually and sonically stunning. The boys’ choir is something special and, I would call your attention to Die Thomaner, a wonderful documentary also from Accentus Music, that spends a year with this group. The soloists are adequate if not stellar while the instrumentalists, handpicked from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra are outstanding. Conductor Biller keeps things moving with a good pace and a light and loving hand. Originally, I thought that I might break up this piece into two sessions. However, once this Passion got underway, I was completely absorbed, and, suddenly it seemed, two and half hours just flew away. Granted, long choral works like this are not everyone’s cup of tea but the true Bach believers, this BD should go directly on your wish list.

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Overall
[Rating:4.5/5]
The Film
[Rating:4.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:0/5]


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