JS Bach: St John Passion

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Signum
WORKS: St John Passion
PERFORMER: Charles Daniels, Stephen Varcoe, Stephan Loges; Yorkshire Baroque Soloists/Peter Seymour
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 209

Advertisement

With Charles Daniels the Evangelist and Stephen Varcoe as Christus (both veterans of period-informed Passion performances for more than 25 years), and with typically thoughtful liner notes from the late Wilfred Mellers, this St John Passion almost induces a whiff of nostalgia.

But there is nothing nostalgic about Peter Seymour’s lean, purposeful direction, the imposing opening chorus fastidiously ‘sprung’ yet maintaining gravitas. His choir musters 20 singers from whom soloists for the arias are mostly drawn – though Stephan Loges shoulders most of the bass numbers in addition to singing the role of Pilate – and minimal forces obtain in the orchestra.

Immediacy prevails, with chorales brisk (sometimes fussily punctuated) and dramatic flow keenly judged – though it’s a pity that ‘Mein teurer Heiland’ crashes in so soon after Christ has breathed his last. A little more space, and Loges matching the hushed restraint of the chorale-imparting choir, could have lifted a pivotal moment. 

Advertisement

The arias are generally neatly-turned rather than inspirational and at a somewhat pinched tempo Jason Darnell has to gabble some of the phrases in ‘Ach mein Sinn’, but Charles Daniel’s level-headed Evangelist anchors the narrative thrust with suave sagacity. Some touches are highly compelling, yet in the end this a serviceable St John rather than a great one. Paul Riley