Charles Petzold

An Alternative “Passion”

August 1, 2006
Roscoe, NY

As I suggested (rather crudely but presciently) in Sunday's blog entry, I don't think anyone will now be able to view Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ in quite the same way, knowing as we know now (and which some people figured out from the actual content of the movie), that it was made by a stark raving lunatic anti-Semite.

For those who now have a Passion-shaped hole that needs filling, I recommend the St. Matthew Passion of Johann Sebastian Bach. It's not a movie, but it's a damn fine piece of music. The text comes from Matthew 26 and 27, interspersed with transcendently lovely arias and chorales.

ArkivMusic lists no fewer than 49 recordings. In recent years I've been listening mostly to the 2003 recording conducted by Paul McCreesh, which is the first time the work has been recorded under a theory developed by musicologist Joshua Rifkin that Bach intended for his choruses to have just one person per part. There are, of course, versions with larger orchestras and choruses. Back in the City I have Georg Solti's recording, and years ago on LP I had an English rendition conducted by Leonard Bernstein, which I see is also available on CD.

And if Sir Jonathan Miller's casual-dress semi-staging of the St. Matthew Passion ever comes to a venue near you, jump at the opportunity to see it. We caught it at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this past April, and found it exciting, enthralling, and deeply moving.