J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings


Main Performer
or Conductor:
Willem Mengelberg
Accompaniment/Orchestra:Amsterdam Toonkunst Choir, Zanglust Boy's Choir, Concertgebouw Orchestra
Soloists:Karl Erb - Evangelist (tenor)
Willem Ravelli - Jesus (bass)
Jo Vincent - (soprano)
Ilona Durigo - (alto)
Louis van Tulder (tenor)
Herman Schey (bass)
Individual Works:Matthaus-Passion, BWV 244
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Grammofono 2000
Catalog Number:AB 78739/41
Year Released/Recorded:1939
Total Playing Time:163 minutes
Comments:Mark Adams said:

This 1939 recording of the complete St. Matthew Passion is digitally remastered from 78 rpm records. Documentation is meager and nothing is said of the actual recording.

The sound on this recording is average. Background noise is noticeable; distortion (at the high end) is apparent; and hiss is persistent. According to the documentation, the set is remastered on the Cedar Sound Restoration System, by which the sound is restored without affecting the freqencies and signals of the original, but the limitations are apparent. Generally, the recording is well-balanced. One also has the sense that this is a live performance.

In the 1930s and early 40s, the radio stations of some cities broadcasted live performances of classical music, including complete operas and oratorios. Some of these broadcasts were archived. One of the earliest extant recordings of the St. Matthew Passion was conducted by Hans Weisbach in 1936 (previously available on vinyl on the Rococo label).

In this set, Willem Mengelberg treats the great passion tenderly. The soloists are remarkable and benefit most from the restoration. The chorus parts are a bit muddled and the the boys' choir strains at times. The instrumentation is difficult to gauge and fairs poorly in the restoration.

The historical value of the set is obvious. It is an excellent document of the German passion during the 1930s. (Mengelberg allegedly collaborated with the Nazis, and was forbidden by the Dutch government to conduct until his death in 1951.) At $43 (U.S.) the set is expensive and probably reserved for the ambitious collector.

Samir Golescu said:

I would like to add that the recording was available on Philips, in better sound than the Grammophono. The original recording was *not* preserved on 78 rpm discs but on film--sound. In the Philips incarnation, it is one of the best-sounding Mengelberg recordings. If you like *only* "authentic" performances stay away from this one. If you like a Bach above history, who is telling us Christ's story in the most humanly compelling way possible, a performance whose sublimity is not close to anything else in my experience, buy it. Among the soloists, the Evangelist, Karl Erb, was since his youth impaired and his highly-regarded specialty was to sing in the Passions. Nobody sang "Eli,Eli" with such pain and compassion. Mengelberg's conducting is a feast in the history of recorded sound. He is employing in his phrasing a very daring rubato, Romatic for purists, revelatory for Bach's lovers.

Samir Golescu

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • Mark Adams
  • Samir Golescu
Date First Submitted:01/20/1998