Bach: St John Passion

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: St John Passion
PERFORMER: Nico van der Meel, Kristinn Sigmundsson, Annegeer Stumphius, James Bowman, Christoph Prégardien, Peter Kooy; Netherlands Chamber Choir, Orchestra of the 18th Century/Frans Brüggen
CATALOGUE NO: 434 905-2 DDD
From the outset, by emphasising the anguished dissonances of the woodwind, Brüggen establishes a sober and passionate reading of the St John Passion, with all the advantages of clarity and lightness that a period performance offers. The chorus is small enough to achieve some wonderfully agile and urgent interjections, and it is Brüggen’s choice of tempi, rather than merely volume, that gives the necessary emotional power.

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Nico van der Meel is a youthful-sounding Evangelist, thoroughly at ease with the recitation, if occasionally too light to communicate the gravity of John’s narrative. This cannot be said of Kristinn Sigmundsson, an imposing bass who offers an intensely dramatic portrayal of Jesus. Impressive, too, are Christoph Prégardien and Peter Kooy, whose ‘Betrachte, meine Seel’ is particularly moving. Another poignant moment is the alto aria following Jesus’s last words on the Cross – ‘Es ist vollbracht’ (‘It is accomplished’). James Bowman and the gamba player Richte van der Meer portray the music’s tragedy with a daringly slow tempo, almost grinding to a halt in anguish. Finally, the soprano Annegeer Stumphius sings with appealing character and warmth, and her first aria is full of such joy that one can forgive the slight inaccuracies. All in all, then, a most rewarding performance. Kate Bolton