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a sentimental favorite that hasn't worn too well
on 17 September 2013
This recording was highly praised when it first appeared, but it hasn't worn too well. It all sounds a bit staid, and the sound is thick. The chorus is warm, but their sound too is heavy, and the chorales are sluggish. The soloists are fine; Gwynne Howell is a big-voiced Jesus, and Heather Harper, a great singer, is secure, although she sings her big aria rather straight -- is it possible that these singers might have been more familiar expressively with a German text? The major drawback, though, is Pears's Evangelist. He's sweet and expressive, but the voice is very uneven, and the sustained notes wobble distinctly. Compared with Anthony Rolfe Johnson on Gardiner's set (or even Haefliger, on the old Richter set), Pears does not seem particularly effective. The Chorus and the Evangelist are the heart of the St. John Passion, and it's the limitations with both that make this set perhaps less than it could have been. Britten's conducting -- in the days before the period instrument movement really took off -- is certainly efficient, but it doesn't seem all that interesting to me. I have to admit, though, that I don't much like another much-praised set: the Klemperer St. Matthew.