By his twenties, Antonius "Ton" Koopman was already carving a musical niche for himself in which he would rise to become one of the world's most prominent performers in the early music movement. Koopman was born in the Dutch town of Zwolle in 1944. After what he describes as a "classical education," he went to Amsterdam to study organ (with Simon C. Jansen), harpsichord (with Gustav Leonhardt), and musicology. Koopman's musical interests from the outset centered upon the re-creation of older musics on their original instruments in a thoroughly researched historical performing style. He founded his first Baroque orchestra in 1966, followed by an exuberant career (40 years and counting) of mingled performance, conducting, and scholarship.
The appetite for evolving performance practices in Bach’s St Matthew Passion appears undiminished as we have gradually shifted, over the generations, from larger to smaller ensembles and also towards a greater dramatic understanding of the implications of Bach’s ambitious ‘stereophonic’ double choir and orchestra choreography.
Hermann Max's recording of J. S. Bach: Matthaus Passion (Capriccio 60 046-2, rec 1995) with the Rheinische Kantorei and Das Kleine Konzert embodies current orthodoxy in most respects: two choirs of 16 voices each are partnered by two orchestras of comparable size, with period instruments sounding at low (Baroque) pitch; tempos are mostly quite sprightly and textures light; ornamentation is sparing and discreet, but cadential appoggiaturas in the recitatives are mostly in place (though the latest fashion seems to be increasingly to omit them). Christoph Pregardien and Klaus Mertens are ideally cast as the Evangelist and Jesus: precise in diction, judicious in expression. The other soloists are more variable. Hans-Georg Wimmer is dependable rather than inspiring in the bass arias. Veronika Winter brings a choirboy timbre to `Blute nur, da liebes Herz!', but there is also a hint of choirboy insecurity in her singing, which seems occasionally to affect also Monika Frimmer in the other soprano numbers. Some of the best solo singing comes from the alto Lena Susanne Norin and the tenor Wilfried Jochens.
Philippe Herreweghe's Bach performances are like no others: spiritual and deeply felt, but also scholarly, and thoroughly thought-through. They sound collaborative, with the vocal soloists given plenty of liberty, but they also give the impression that there is a singular will shaping the performance into a unified and wholly individualistic reading. Even the tone of the period instruments is subtly different: warm yet pungent, colorful yet blended, sometimes sweet, but more often tart. Listeners familiar with the Bach of Gardiner or Harnoncourt may at first be challenged by Herreweghe's approach, but the power of his performances may win them over. In this 1998 Harmonia Mundi recording of the "Matthäus-Passion," tenor Ian Bostridge's account of the central role of the Evangelist is slightly to the left of center, more emotionally expressive, and more rhythmically pliable than most, but Herreweghe's interpretation can easily accommodate him. (James Leonard)
Johann Sebastian Bach's monumental St. Matthew Passion was first performed on Good Friday in 1727 at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. It is the largest single composition Bach ever wrote, both in terms of length and in terms of instrumental and vocal forces. It requires two choruses, two orchestras, four vocal soloists for the arias and vocal soloists for each of the various character parts. Philippe Herreweghe's 1999 recording of Bach's masterpiece features a stellar cast and was a perennial catalog bestseller.