JS Bach’s St John Passion conducted by David Temple with the Crouch End Festival Chorus

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: St John Passion
PERFORMER: Sophie Bevan (soprano), Robin Blaze (countertenor), Benjamin Hulett, Robert Murray (tenor), Andrew Ashwin (baritone), Neal Davies (bass-baritone), Ashley Riches (bass), Peter Jaekel (organ); Crouch End Festival Chorus; Bach Camerata/David Temple
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5183(2) (hybrid CD/SACD)


Singing Bach’s Passions in a language other than German can be a gnarly issue. The inflected colours of the original text are as crucial to the soundworld as the use of period instruments. And for a translator, how paramount are Bach’s notes, the rhyming schemes, the theological niceties? ‘Accessibility’ drives this new recording in English. Yet within the opening recitative, ‘for Jesus resorted thither oft’ betrays a certain clunkiness; and where Bach allots four notes and a springy rhythm to Jesus’s first utterance, the English version yields three and impeccable smoothness. What exactly are we ‘accessing’?

In assorted translations of the Matthäus-Passion, the start of the tenor aria ‘Geduld’ is rendered variously as ‘Rejoice’, ‘Be still’, ‘Be strong’ or ‘Endure’. Linguistic immediacy comes at a price. For those who think it’s a price worth paying, however, there’s plenty to recommend a recording – purposefully conducted by David Temple – that also swims against the tide with a hefty 100-plus chorus mustering venom aplenty. The solo line-up is without a weak link; among its glories Sophie Bevan’s deeply affecting ‘Zerfliesse, mein Herze’, Benjamin Hulett’s finely nuanced ‘Erwäge’, and Robin Blaze’s exquisitely judged ‘Es ist vollbracht’. Robert Murray’s Evangelist holds everything together with narrative acuity.


Paul Riley