JS Bach: St John Passion

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Avie
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: St John Passion
PERFORMER: Charles Daniels (Evangelist), Joshua Hopkins (Jesus), Tyler Duncan (Pilate), Shannon Mercer (soprano), Matthew White (alto), Jacques-Olivier Chartier (tenor); Portland Baroque Orchestra; Cappella Romana/ Monica Huggett (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902094

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Though Bach wrote nothing for the stage, his vocal music is saturated in operatic conventions, nowhere most so than in his St John Passion. Monica Huggett embraces them enthusiastically. The opening chorus is the most animated – and fastest – I’ve heard on disc, and the crowd can hardly wait to interrupt the Evangelist in the trial scene.

Charles Daniels’s narration is focused on meaning rather than vocal lyricism, and the harpsichord accompaniment emphasises the theatrical quality of his role, while the organ aptly highlights the words of Jesus, sung by Joshua Hopkins.

Ten more singers provide the chorus. In chorales, they play the congregational role ardently and the singing is sensitively phrased. They characterise arrogant priests and agitated soldiers vividly, though never quite achieve the maniacal fury of a hysterical crowd.

The excellent soloists are sometimes hard-pressed. Tyler Duncan’s aria ‘Haste ye’ is hectic, while the solo trio interject questions so fast and staccato that they’re sometimes barely audible. But the aria ‘Es ist vollbracht!’ is moving and gently flowing.

Just as Bach’s first performance lacked flutes, so Huggett dispenses with them. This seems questionable as he chose to include them later. But still a distinctive contribution to the St John Passions on disc.

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George Pratt