St. Matthew Passion (1949) - News Poster

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San Sebastian Film Review: ‘The Demons’

Fevered imagination and nightmarish reality brush shoulders to disconcerting effect in “The Demons,” Quebecois filmmaker Philippe Lesage’s extraordinary examination of childhood fears festering in broad suburban daylight. Putting his documentary training to disciplined use as he teases out the largely internalized insecurities — sexual, social and practical — of his 10-year-old protagonist, Lesage initially balances good-humored humanism with a formal sangfroid suggestive of a summer-brightened Haneke. A provocative shift in perspective at the midway point, however, calls the irrationality of those young neuroses into question: It’s a gambit that may divide auds, but leaves little doubt as to the expertise of the film’s directorial manipulation. A competition standout at San Sebastian, this difficult but frequently dazzling film promises still heftier work from its helmer; forward-thinking distributors should act accordingly.

Lesage’s rigorous stylistic poise in the face of potentially overheated subject matter could put some viewers in mind of
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Anniversaries: Johann Sebastian Bach Born 330 Years Ago on March 21, 1685

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) never left Germany but became internationally respected by his peers during his lifetime and a symbol of pure musicianship for future generations. A virtuoso organist, harpsichordist, and violinist/violist who may have also played lute, as a composer his mastery of counterpoint and fugal writing remain unmatched, yet he was also open to the influences of contemporary Italian and French composers.

Born into a highly musical family in Eisenach, Germany, Bach became organist at the Neukirche in Arnstadt in 1703 at the age of 18. His first major appointment was as court organist to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar, in 1708; six years later the Duke made him Concertmaster. In 1717 Bach became Kapellmeister and music director to the music-loving Prince Leopold of Anhalt in Cöthen, where Bach wrote much of his greatest secular music. Bach's duties switched to writing choral and organ music for use in church services
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The 10 Best Classical Performances of 2014

  • Vulture
The 10 Best Classical Performances of 2014
This week, Vulture will be publishing our critics' year-end lists. 1. Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Metropolitan Opera The Met had a rough year: the threat of a strike, conflict over the allegedly terrorist-loving The Death of Klinghoffer, and a nauseating deficit ($22 million!). But once the curtain goes up, such trivial problems fade in favor of much worse ones, like those playing out in Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. In Graham Vick’s long-absent vintage production, the soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek made killing your husband, banging his employee, poisoning his father, and going on a death march to Siberia into a hugely entertaining evening.2. St. Matthew Passion, Peter Sellars and the Berlin Philharmonic Sellars reconfigured both the Park Avenue Armory and Bach’s oratorio, performing the piece in the round and bringing out the intimate human currents in a monumental, scriptural score. Led by Simon Rattle, it was also terrific theater. 3. Salome,
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At the Armory and Carnegie Hall, the Berlin Philharmonic’s Retro Reinvention

  • Vulture
At the Armory and Carnegie Hall, the Berlin Philharmonic’s Retro Reinvention
Every musician returning to a familiar masterwork claims fresh insight — details that suddenly reveal themselves, a new understanding buried in the score’s infinite riches. Great art is always changing, we’re told, which is what makes it great. This is often hogwash. Symphonic music’s most loyal audiences rely on the fact that most of it sounds mostly the same most of the time. Somehow, though, the Berlin Philharmonic made Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, that old collection of cumbersome glories, feel like a stunningly contemporary drama.The astonishment began before the first note had sounded. The director Peter Sellars had tailored his staging for the Berliner Philharmonie, so the only way to import the spectacle was to bring the hall along, too. In the Park Avenue Armory, someone had assembled immense quantities of scaffolding into a nearly full-scale mock-up of the orchestra’s famous home. Seating encircled the
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Music for Easter Season, Part 1: Bachs

Even in my youth, when Christmas came packaged with the anticipation of new toys, I preferred the Easter season. Why? Because I sang in a church choir, and the music of the Easter season is far, far greater. The gamut of emotions traversed along Holy Week alone offers so much grist for musical expressiveness: Palm Sunday (triumph, but tinged with foreshadowing), Maundy Thursday (dark lamentations), Good Friday (agony), and Easter (the ultimate triumph). And though the great masterpieces, Johann Sebastian Bach's two mighty Passion settings, were beyond the capacities of a simple church choir, I reveled in playing my vinyl versions over and over again. (Neither would be fashionable nowadays; the St. Matthew a Nonesuch recording led by Hans Swarowsky featuring the Vienna Boys Choir, though with an excellent set of soloists starring Heather Harper, and the St. John led by none other than Eugene Ormandy at the head of his Philadelphia Orchestra,
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Steve's Favorite New Classical Albums of 2013

As always, there are biases at play here; my greatest interests are symphonic music, choral music, and piano music, so that's what comes my way most often. There are some paired reviews; the ranking of the second of each pair might not be the true, exact ranking, but it works better from a writing standpoint this way.

1. Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 1-4; Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80 Tragic Overture, Op. 81; Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a; 3 Hungarian Dances; 9 Liebeslieder Waltzes; Intermezzi, Op. 116 No. 4 & Op. 117 No. 1 Gewandhausorchester/Riccardo Chailly (Decca)

It is not easy, at this point in recording history, to match the giants of the baton in a Brahms cycle, but Chailly has done it (this is my fiftieth Brahms cycle, and I have more than another fifty Brahms Firsts, and upwards of thirty each of the other symphonies outside those cycles, so I've got some basis for comparison
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Dramatic New Recording of Bach's St. John Passion

Charles Daniels/Shannon Mercer/Matthew White/Jacques-Olivier Chartier/Tyler Duncan/Joshua Hopkins/Cappella Romana/Portland Baroque Orchestra/Monica Huggett J.S. Bach: St. John Passion, Bwv 245 (1724 version) (Avie)

The four largest Bach choral works are the Mass in B-minor, the St. Matthew Passion, the St. John Passion, and the Christmas Oratorio, and half of those are about today and tomorrow, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday (the work was written for performance at Good Friday Vespers). The St. John Passion is in some ways the most daring of the big four, especially as first composed -- the version heard here -- since the 1725 revision doesn't have the opening chorus "Herr, unser Herrscher." The roiling tension of the opening immediately sets the work apart from its peers, and throughout it is considerably more dramatic -- and much leaner than the St. Matthew Passion.

"Lean" is definitely the word for this performance as well.
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