Harmonia Podcast #119: Bach Passions Old and New



This week’s podcast shows how inspiring the music of Johann Sebastian Bach can be, whether listening to it performed on period instruments or in transcription. And it shows that his compositions are indestructible.

It was somewhat difficult trying to decide which Early Music recording of the Matthew Passion to begin with. There are so many fine performances that a person might be driven a little crazy, but it was reassuring that at least I wasn’t trying to create another top-ten list of Messiahs.

Matthew Passion

I chose the Dunedin Consort and Players because they have one of the most recent and have consistently released excellent recordings. I was also intrigued by their choosing to record Bach’s final version of the Matthew Passion from around 1742.

With that said, I have to admit that the inspiration for the podcast was due to a modern work inspired by Bach.

Arabian Passion

Months ago I came across a new recording on one of my favorite blogs. It is what you might refer to as “Bach meets the Middle East.” Performed by vocalist Fadia El-Hage, Ensemble Sarband, and Modern String Quartet, the production is the brain child of Vladimir Ivanoff who created an Arabian Passion from Bach’s Matthew and John Passions (in the process, constructing a different narrative).

The result is a beautiful and transcendent arrangement.


Some of the most modern-sounding arrangements of early music have come from the Belgian saxophonist Fabrizio Cassol, whose collaborations with choreographer Alain Platel have produced works that make for fascinating music and dance.

I discovered Cassol’s work last year while looking into recordings for a Harmonia New Music/Early Music episode, but ended up using it in a podcast. His arrangement of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 (VSPRS), with its mix of period and modern instruments, is awesome, to say the very least.

I was then delighted to find out that Cassol had moved on to Bach and taken inspiration from the Matthew Passion. Entitled Pitié, the work he created is farther out there than his Monteverdi but still excellent.

  • J.S. Bach: Matthew Passion, Dunedin Consort and Players (buy)
  • J.S. Bach/Ivanoff, arr.: Arabian Passion, Sarband (buy)
  • J.S. Bach/Cassol, arr.: Pitié, AKA Moon (buy)


#119—J.S. Bach PASSIONS: Matthew, Arabian, and Pitié

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