WORKS: St John Passion
PERFORMER: The Scholars Baroque Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550664-5 DDD
Bach’s Passions have been neatly described as unfolding on four levels: narrative, lyrical, devotional, monumental. There is nothing weightily monumental from this handful of singers and instrumentalists. The opening chorus moves at a sparkling pace, four-in-a-bar as Bach wrote it, voices articulating as cleanly as the instruments.
The Scholars’ concept leans strongly towards dramatic narrative – sacred opera, not sanctimonious devotion. Recitatives convey vivid realism, despite delayed continuo cadences played after the voice has finished. Robin Doveton is an involved Evangelist, David van Asch a very human Jesus. All the soloists become the eight-voice chorus, especially impressive as the angry crowd lusting for blood. The narrative pace, from Evangelist to mob and back again, is unstoppable.
In contrast, their devotional contribution in the chorales is beautifully shaped, the underlying pulse bending but never breaking at the phrase-endings.
The lyrical element lies in the exceptionally colourful arias – Bach scored no two alike. They’re highly charged here, from Julian Podger’s impassioned outburst of remorse after Peter’s denial of Christ to Kym Amps’s heart-broken sobbing in ‘Zerfließe, mein Herze’.
Intimate recorded sound exposes moments of rough intonation – a negligible price to pay for such dramatic realism. Highly recommended. George Pratt