Music for Holy Week–Great Oratorios

Handel’s Messiah–it’s a pity we do it mostly at Christmas; it’s very much an Easter piece. A few especially Easter-y excerpts:

Behold the Lamb of God
He Trusted in God
Thy Rebuke Hath Broken His Heart and Behold and See
He Was Despised–for soprano and for countertenor

The St. Matthew Passion–The Gardiner recording is perfect, if a little cool. My favorite is this Herreweghe recording, which is less fussy about historical performance practice and less restrained than the Gardiner. (And makes the mob choruses truly scary.) There’s also a good performance serialized on youtube, with the Amsterdam Baroque orchestra. Start here.

The St. John Passion–smaller and sweeter than the Matthew. This is the one I listen to every year without fail. Again, Gardiner and Herreweghe are the go-to recordings, although I’m starting to really like the Bach Collegium Japan’s version, conducted by Masaaki Suzuki, which (oh wonders of the internet!), you can hear and watch on youtube, starting here. My favorite chorus, Ruht Wohl, is here, starting about 2 minutes in.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I have and love all of those. I like the Academy of Ancient Music. I’m guessing that they’re fussy about historical performance practice, but I still really like their recordings.

  2. I like their recordings too. I have several of their CDs. Thanks for putting this music together, Kristine. I’ve been trying to do some special things with my kids this week, and this will add so much to it.

  3. Kristine says:

    Kev, Academy of Ancient Music for Handel, right? I like that one, too. I don’t think they’ve done the Passions? (or at least the recordings haven’t been in print for a while… I could be totally wrong.)

  4. Kevin Barney — with what subject AREN’T you conversant? Holy crap. You are my hero.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Right, Kristine, I should have specified Messiah (although I have some other Academy of Ancient Music recordings I like, such as Judas Maccabeus). My St. Matthew’s is the Chicago Symphony conducted by Sir George Solti, and my St. John’s is the Gardiner.

  6. Kristine says:

    Whew–for a minute I thought I was even more ignorant than I knew I was :)

  7. Kristine, I haven’t chimed in on this series very much, but I wanted you to know that I find these posts simply majestic, and a wholly amazing form of worship. Thanks for sharing your gifts with us this way.

  8. btw I have the 250th anniversary performance of Messiah by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Orchestra and Choir — it’s a nice one, if you haven’t heard it. The soloists are fine.

  9. D. Fletcher says:

    I hope I don’t burst anybody’s bubble by saying, in my opinion, Christopher Hogwood is talent-free. Just using original instruments doesn’t make for a good performance. His recordings are sloppy, poorly recorded, and make little impact. The Messiah! making little impact? Shame on them.

    Messiah, Chicago, Solti and Kiri — great. And the best soprano solos of the Messiah ever recorded are by Eileen Farrell, with the MoTab and Eugene Ormandy.

  10. Kristine says:

    No way!! Farrell’s too heavy for Handel, and, while I agree that period instrument performances can leave a great deal to be desired, the anachronistic lushness of the Ormandy sound is just too gooey for many parts of Messiah.

    We can armwrestle over it. Right _after_ you play the organ in my ward :)

  11. D. Fletcher says:

    I don’t like the Ormandy/MoTab version very much, because it’s too mushy overall, as you’ve said.

    But Eileen Farrell is just perfect, in my book. Who knows what they sounded like in 1750?

    Her pianissimo on “the first fruits of them that sleep” in “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” is one of the great moments in recorded history.

  12. Kristine says:

    Darn it–now I’m going to have to go listen to that again :)

  13. Bach Collegium Japan may just have the best cycle out there of the cantatas — the soloists and choir actually sing in tune.

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