Bach: St John Passion

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Teldec Das Alte Werk
WORKS: St John Passion
PERFORMER: Angela Maria Blasi (soprano), Marjana Lipovsek (contralto), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Robert Holl (bass), Anton Scharinger (bass), Arnold Schönberg Choir, Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 9031-74862-2 DDD
Of Bach’s two surviving Passions, this is the more vivid and fast-moving. Rolfe Johnson as the Evangelist paces his account of the action very subtly. Harnoncourt’s turba – the crowd – is more explicit: ‘We have a law’ begins quietly, the Jews gradually convincing themselves of the justice of their argument as the chorus unfolds. Elsewhere it’s overdone – the crowd asking Peter ‘Art thou not one of his disciples?’ with a crude accelerando. Conversely, there’s unwanted dallying in the supremely unhesitant aria ‘I follow in gladness’ and chorales lose impetus too, each phrase winding down to a pause. Yet the dramatic overview is strong, accelerating towards the climax of the crucifixion. Holl develops the role of Jesus effectively, after a rather assertive start. Other soloists, biblical characters and lyrical commentators are excellent, and supported by clean though numerous strings – 20 compared with the 8 of The Scholars reviewed here in January. Wind are less happily in tune – or balanced.

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Harnoncourt uses a contrabassoon, a striking orchestral colour, in the weightier passages, a notion increasingly supported by recent research. It adds a threatening rumble to the rolling bass line of the monumental opening chorus, if a less apt foundation for the closing ‘Lie still’. George Pratt