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.
The renowned St. Thomas Boys Choir of Leipzig, which boasts J. S. Bach as a former cantor, celebrates its 800th anniversary with an extraordinary interpretation of the St. Matthew Passion. The Guardian praised how the harmonic lines interwove with a transcendence that can only be achieved through living, eating and working together. This Accentus Music production is the only audio-visual release of Bachs St. Matthew Passion, performed by the choir for which it was written, in St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, where the composer worked and is buried.
It has haunted René Jacobs since childhood: first as a boy soprano in Ghent, then as a countertenor, he has constantly frequented the supreme masterpiece that is the 'St Matthew Passion'. Jacobs uses the layout of the Good Friday Vesper service from Bach's time, with choirs front and back, rather than side-by-side. He also gives us extra soloists to complete the bi-choral effect. For Bach, the two halves were 28 metres apart. At that distance, coordination difficulties begin to appear between the speed of light, and the speed of sound, and we cannot determine how Bach dealt with this problem. However the wonders of SACD multichannel surround sound can at last give an impression of what Bach intended for St Thomas’ Church in Leipzig.