St. Matthew Passion
The little cantors’ renewed passion tradition
Tom Nyman, tenor (evangelist)
Jyrki Korhonen, bass (Jesus)
Helena Juntunen, soprano
Teppo Lampela, alto
Niall Chorell, tenor
Heikki Kilpeläinen, bass
CM training group choir
Finnish Baroque Orchestra
Hannu Norjanen, conductor
At least since the 17th century, the passion of Jesus according to the Gospels of John and Matthew has been sung in Leipzig on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. These performances, in which the text was recited in song, stemmed partly from the time of Gregorian chant. Gregorian chant was monophonic, but some budding polyphony could be discerned in long organ points below the melody. Dramatic and antiphonic passions like these were wide-spread, especially in Lutheran Germany. Since 1717, also polyphonic passions were performed in Leipzig, and this style was dominant when J. S. Bach began his work as the cantor of St. Thomas in the early summer of 1723.
The passion was usually performed during the vespers, which started around 2 pm. The sermon was held between the first and second part of the passion, so the total duration of vespers could be 4–5 hours. The dutiful parishioner, who had already attended the four hours long morning service from 7–11 am, could easily spend up to nine hours in church on Good Friday.
According to contemporary understanding, the St. Matthew Passion was performed for the first time during the Holy Week in 1727. It is the most extensive of Bach’s preserved passions. The group of performers is exceptionally large, and it is divided into two orchestras and choirs. There are also several soloists. Bach adds a descant choir to the opening chorus singing Agnus Dei (”O Lamm Gottes unschuldig”), the chorale O Lamb of God.
The text to the St. Matthew Passion is largely based on the Gospel of Matthew. The aria lyrics have been written by Christian Friedrich Henrici (1700–1746), Picander by pen name. The passion is structured in two introductory parts and fifteen main events or scenes, which was a common way of theologically divide passions. As follows, there are 17 different scenes all in all when introductions are included.