A NEW REFRESHING AND MOVING PASSION PERFORMANCE.
ALWAYS THE THINKER WAS J.S.B.! Bach (1685-1750)when planning his first Passion had no model, and the defects of formal structure in the St.John Passion are obvious. Their effect is negligible against the greatness of the music in all other respects. Since the first century, the reading of the story of Christ's Passion have been the central part of the liturgy of Holy Week, and therefore it is no surprise that the passion gradually evolved into a distinct musical genre. The outstanding and musical artistic achievement of Bach in his passions is that the biblical text remains at the heart of what is expressed in each work. Another notable feature is the large number of chorales by comparison with contemporary passions.
Although the two passions by Bach belong to the same tradition, there are important differences between them. Compared to the St. Matthew Passion, with its numerous lyrical arias and ariosos and its integrated tonal scheme, the St. John Passion is more dramatic with its trial scenes, and in some respects more audacious!
Franz Bruggen is a long-time master of Baroque performance as is shown here with his perfectly judged tempos, his dynamic choral movements, rich textural detail and overall sense of balance between orchestra and chorus. Moreover, he is fully aware of the spiritual power and interpretive potential of this great composition. One of the many delights coming from his distinquished career has been the vast understanding that he brings to the music of Bach. This was first brought to my attention when I purchased Bruggen's 1989 recording of the B minor mass; I experienced such joy that I could not refrain from listening to it for days on end. (It's still available!) Bruggen's cultured feeling for Bach's musical structures as much as for style and expressive content allows for a textural clarity not obvious in his directing colleagues.
The soloists comprise a group of both distinquished and rising talents, all of whom performed skillfully, if not always inspirationally. In singing Bach one cannot gainsay experience and I believe that on this recording this was evident, though in a small way, and certainly did not detract from the excellence of the entire performance. The two singers that were very comfortable and definitely sang Bach with assurance and elegance were Michael Chance(countertenor) and Peter Kooij(bass). They delivered their arias with emotional intensity, wrapping themselves around the Bach phrases like they were born to it, but in fact have been singing Bach for many years.
The Orchestra of the 18th Century are all specialists in that era, and play on period instruments or contemporary copies. Their performance on this disc is beyond reproach and indeed shows a deep understanding of how the music of Bach should be played. The Cappella Amsterdam sings with dramatic intensity, and a buoyant sound. The parts were well-balanced, the interpretation beautifully rendered and diction clear and precise.
With all the St.John Passions available (I counted 35 and then stopped counting.),the listener must determine what they enjoy. This recording is new and refreshing, recorded in Rotterdam from the two 'live' performances in April, 2010. I chose it because of my past recordings of Bruggen at the helm, AND because two of my favorite Bach singers (mentioned previously) are on it. BUT it's really your call!