Matthäus-Passion BWV 244
Conducted by Seiji Osawa
Ozawa's St. Matthew PassionKarl Otsuki wrote (March 27, 2000):
Since we've been reading some messages regarding St. Matthew Passion, I thought I'd drop this note.
Maybe this CD's have been already discussed but.... A few weeks ago I picked up the CDs of Seiji Ozawa/ Saito-kinen Orchestra's St. Matthew Passion. I know, many of you would think it would be a waste of money. You probably think his Bach wouldn't sound like Bach. Actually, I was surprised and amazed by this recording. It's not a HIP one, but it's a good modern instrument recording. I think it's worth a try.
I bought this recording because a Japanese friend of mine told me a story about this recording. If I remember correctly, Ozawa/Saito-Kinen did an opening concert for this newly-constructed concert hall in Tokyo. Japanese famous composer Toru Takemitsu was the producer (or something) of this hall, but he passed away before he sees the opening of the hall. Takemitsu loved St. Matthew Passion, so Ozawa and other main members of Saito-Kinen decided to do St. Matthew Passion for the opening-- for the sake of Takemitsu's love to the work by Bach.
But they knew that they wouldn't be able to do a wonderful performance... Performing Bach's Passion was totally new experience for them. So they studied Bach... They invited Japanese renown Bach scholar Tadashi Isoyama (yes, he writes the liner notes for BIS/BCJ CD's), twice actually, to study St. Matthew Passion, and Ozawa even borrowed the facsimile of Bach's 1736 manuscript score from Mr. Isoyama and studied it.
One of the leading players in the Saito-Kinen, violist Nobuko Imai, came up with this idea that string players use Baroque bows instead of modern bows - with modern instruments (of course with steel strings). Many HIP fans actually criticized this idea of using Baroque bows, because it's like being dressed in borrowed plumes... People thought the orchestra was trying to mock early instrument groups. But actually the orchestra was very humble... They knew that it's impossible to do HIP, but they thought they can learn a lot from it. They just used Baroque bows to understand how they work- and they discovered that some passages in the Passion make sense only with Baroque bows... They saw something new that they couldn't see before.
Ozawa asked the flutist in the orchestra to get and play the Flauto traverso for the obbligato part (probably for Aus Liebe). They worked really hard to make this St. Matthew Passion performance something special. The CD's are not live recording of this opening concert, but I believe they used the same instruments and the same formation to do the recording.
Maybe I like this recording because I liked the story I heard from my friend, but I would love to hear your comments. Ozawa's not a Bach specialist, but you can hear he's really trying to do Bach. And interestingly it doesn't sound like Ozawa.
It's was recorded in 1997 (PHILIPS). I bought the CD's at HMV in Philadelphia, so they should be available but couldn't find one at CD NOW, Tower Records (online) and Amazon. My friend has the CD's now and I don't have the specific information here, but I remember that Rilling's favorite Thomas Quasthoff did Jesus, and the alto was Nathalie Stutzmann.
P.S. Regarding St. Matthew Passion recommendations... my vote is for Suzuki/BCJ. I totally agree with Ryan!
Seiji Ozawa: Short Biography | Tokyo Opera Singers | Saito Kinen Orchestra | Recordings | BWV 232 - Ozawa | BWV 244 - Ozawa