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Classical 101

St. Matthew Passion on Good Friday, Only on Classical 101

Johann Sebastian Bach

 A few years ago we began a tradition here at Classical 101. We present Johann Sebastian Bach’s Matthaus-Passion The St. Matthew Passion on Good Friday evening at 7pm.

This year we will hear a newly published recording conducted by the Belgian countertenor, musicologist and maestro René Jacobs. The Academy of Ancient Music in Berlin, the Chamber Choir of the German radio (RIAS Kammerchor), along with the Cathedral Choir of Berlin give heart to Bach’s monumental work.

The Passion will be heard on Good Friday, March 28 at 7 pm on Classical 101.


We’ve tried to present a different recording every year. Not only a different recording but often another way of performing this great work. We have heard Leonard Bernstein’s 1960 recording, sung in English, abridged, and with Bernstein’s reordering of the musical numbers. Such a recording would be considered heretical today by people who take themselves too seriously.

I enjoyed it, and I take any recording by Leonard Bernstein…seriously. Last year we heard Otto Klemperer’s 1960 recording, made in London. You can’t beat Klemperer for a starry line up of soloists: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Peter Pears, Nicolai Gedda and Christa Ludwig. Not forgetting the Philharmoniaorchestra, hand-picked in the early 1950s by Walter Legge. This performance is slow, thick, and grandiose. It is how many of us first encountered the St. Matthew Passion growing up.

Today a performance with lighter textures and smaller forces are the norm. I was interested to read that the chamber orchestra and choir approach thought to mimic Bach’s performances are nearly accidental. Bach had limited space for his performers in the Thmaskirsche in Leipzig. Had he a cathedral at his disposal, who knows? Klemperer may have been right and Pinnock, Hogwood, and Jacobs wrong.

In the end it doesn’t matter. You will hear the strings and winds gently surrounding the words of Christ with a musical halo. You will hear the choirs going from reverence to becoming an angry mob crying, “Lass ihn kreuzigen!” (The fateful words: “Let him be crucified!”) Then there’s the sublime passion chorale and the chorus, devastated, shocked and grief at the crucifixion”Warlich, dieser ist Gottes Sohn gewesen.” (Truly, this was the Son of God.)


Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.