JS Bach: St John Passion

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach: St John Passion
WORKS: St John Passion
PERFORMER: Eizabeth Watts (soprano); Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano); James Gilchrist, Andrew Kennedy (tenor); Ashley Riches (baritone); Matthew Rose, Christopher Purves (baritone); Academy of Ancient Music & Choir/Richard Egarr


No one could accuse Richard Egarr of skimping in this new St John Passion. Where the Dunedin Consort ‘got by’ with just ten singers in total for John Butt’s fascinating liturgical reconstruction (reviewed April, 2013), Egarr allows himself the luxury of fully seven top drawer soloists, and that’s not counting the ‘walk on’ parts. It’s not just the pedigree of the solo line-up that oozes luxury. The packaging comes complete with web links to films and material exploring the hinterland of this work, which Egarr presents in its original incarnation rather than the more usually performed hybrid incorporating later tinkerings – the differences essentially about detail rather than substance.

Detail, alas, is in short supply in the opening chorus, which zips along like an angry hurricane chewing up everything in its path. Happily it proves to be a freak weather incident, and if the chorus depicting the casting of lots for Christ’s robe lacks the buzz of gambling fever, Egarr whips up venomous indignation for the crowd’s joustings with Pilate. Sarah Connolly’s ‘Es ist vollbracht!’ is searing, even if, like the lute obbligato in ‘Betrachte meine Seel’, the gamba could have been more forward in the sound picture. And Elizabeth Watts’s ‘Zerfliesse, mein Herze’ is almost unbearably poignant, the accompanying thematic allusions to the opening chorus and ‘Ach mein Sinn’ subtly pointed up.

In the end, despite James Gilchrist’s seasoned Evangelist, Egarr doesn’t quite pull off the sureness of narrative pacing that distinguishes John Eliot Gardiner’s live second recording with the Monteverdi Choir (Soli Deo Gloria SDG712). Even so, there are riches at almost every turn.


Paul Riley