- St. Matthew Passion (Matthäuspassion), for soloists, chorus & orchestra, BWV 244b (BC D3a) (early version)
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The retirement of the knighted Stephen Cleobury as the director of the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, in 2019 brought with it various valedictory events, including this Easter 2019 live performance of Bach's "St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244." The big Bach works aren't necessarily in the wheelhouse of the English collegiate choirs, but Cleobury and the choir have performed the "St. Matthew Passion" on various occasions, including at least once with Sophie Bevan, the present fine soprano soloist. All of the soloists are strong, obviously welcoming the chance to participate in what was something of a landmark in English choral music. Lovers of the Cambridge choirs will want this in their collections regardless, but how about general followers of the "St. Matthew Passion" and its performances? Certainly, this is quintessentially English Bach, although the all-male boys-and-men choir of about 25 members is probably closer to what Bach intended than the warmer small adult groups that are the norm these days. If you're looking for a sense of awe at the events of the Crucifixion, this may not be the place to find it, but Cleobury's careful work may grow on listeners. In a rather cavernous King's College acoustic, he achieves good separation of the work's double choirs, and the lengthy instrumental introductions of the work's glorious arias are sharp and full of detail that connects to the vocal line. Although this is not an intensely dramatic "St. Matthew Passion," it is one that unfolds according to its own logic, and it will reward multiple hearings.