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My Passion for English,
This review is from: Bach: St John Passion (Audio CD)
If you are approaching Bach's wonderful Passion settings for the first time,you could not do yourself a bigger favour than to start your voyage of exploration with this quite lovely English language performance of the St.John.Almost nothing is lost in the translation from the German,and indeed this version was so carefully honed through successive performances,that at times it almost seems as though Bach had our native tongue in mind from the very start.
The Decca sound is well up to the standard of the period (1971) and aside from some bumps and thumps in the long opening chorus,it's almost ideally warm and full-bodied.
The musical forces involved are beyond my criticism:Benjamin Britten conducts with the authority and innate genius you would naturally expect,whilst the vocal soloists compete with each other to see who can most astound and beguile your ears next.Highlights include Heather Harper's stunning,"I'll follow thee also";Alfreda Hodgson's tear-jerking,"To release me from this prison";Robert Tear's tragic depiction of Peter's remorse after the denial of his friend,master and God,"Ah! take flight away from Human sight" and the magical,"Look yonder,O my soul" from the Bass John Shirley-Quirk.This last aria is Bach's meditiation on the supreme awfulness of the scourging of Jesus,and there are few more poignant or heart-rending moments in all music.J.S-Q gives it his most tender treatment and the ECO give him spine-tinglingly reverential support.
The crucial Choral element is in the safe collective hands of the assured Wandsworth School Boys' Choir under Russell Burgess.They are suitably indignantly incandescent in,"Ah! who would dare to smite thee ?",and can also plumb the depths of pity in places such as,"Peter,who denied his Lord".
So,you have an excellent recording (bearing in mind that first chorus caveat) of an indispensable masterwork (sans language barrier);distinguished conductor;peerless soloists;brilliant orchestra and fabulous choir.What more do you need to know ? If you can log off without adding this treasure to your basket or at least resolving to come back at the very next opportunity,I'll be most astonished at your powers of self-denial,and even more amazed that you would pass up the opportunity to experience a wonder that transcends ordinary music as much Heaven transcends the Earth.