Bach St John Passion

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Challenge Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Bach St john Passion
WORKS: St John Passion
PERFORMER: Gerlinde Samann (soprano`0, Petra Noskaiova (alto), Christoph Grnz (tenor), Jens Hamann (bass); La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
CATALOGUE NO: CC72545

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Where his Bach Cantata recordings have one-to-a-part voices, here Sigiswald Kuijken adds a ripieno quartet to the four soloists. The difference is striking, particularly in the tonal balance between warm pairs of voices and crystalline instrumental clarity. His ‘choir’ provides heartfelt congregational ardour in chorales, the hysterical ferocity of a crowd thirsting for blood, and objective commentary as onlookers in the opening and closing choruses. They characterise splendidly: soldiers draw lots for Jesus’s clothing in muttered counterpoint, and the interjections of ‘wohin?’ in ‘Haste… to Golgotha’ are neatly done. Above all, Kuijken sustains a constant pace in the moments of highest drama.

Christoph Genz is an outstanding Evangelist, his natural speech-rhythm carrying forward this most dramatic – operatic – of Bach’s works. And the soloists, too, are excellent. Gerlinde Sämann’s aria ‘Ich folge’ is urgent, two flutes creating an apparently fathomless reservoir of breath. Kuijken’s gamba solo is stark and unsentimental in ‘Es ist vollbracht’, sung by the countertenor-ish Petra Noskaiová. (Oboes dominate her in ‘Von den Stricken’, even with the surround-sound dimension – a rare lapse in recording balance.)

Kuijken stresses the marriage of text to music. It seems an unfortunate economy to omit a translation to help non-German readers.

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George Pratt