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Customer reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
John Passion
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on 30 March 2013
John Butt has previously made records of St. Matthew Passion and the B minor Mass that impressed me by their combination of rigorous scholarship and strong musicianship. Yet my pleasure in listening to them was greatly limited by weaknesses in the performing team. Like any locally-based Music Director, Butt had to make do with what he had available - just like Bach himself. I am delighted to report that the Dunedin Consort in this performance has been substantially refreshed, with excellent results.

Butt follows the modern tradition, begun by Andrew Parrott, of performing St. John Passion with minimal forces, as Bach seems to have done. The highly competent band is one-to-a-part (except for doubled violins), and the four principal singers sing everything, with some doubling from four ripienists. Thus the first tenor sings the Evangelist, the tenor arias, and the tenor part in all the choruses; the first bass Christus, the bass arias, and so on. To those used to choral society performances this must seem a strange idea, but a small expert force makes for an agile and expressive rendition, if well directed, as it is here; and four voices can make a suprisingly large amount of noise.

There is much competition in the Bach passion market, so we have to ask the crass question: what are Butt's USPs? They are twofold. First, it's an emotive performance - passionate, we might say. Much of this is led by the Evangelist, Nicholas Mulroy, who sings with great energy, very heart-on-sleeve. He's a bit much for me, but many will love his approach . Second, the performance is presented in a liturgical context - nothing too heavy, just organ preludes and congregational hymns (plus a sermon available to download!). One would not always listen to the extra bits, but I found it helpful not to step straight into that strange first chorus from cold.

If, like me, you have admired Butt's previous efforts (in Handel as well as Bach) but thought that his principal singers were simply not good enough, you will be as pleased as I have been to discover that on this set intention and delivery are well matched, with admirable results.
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on 22 August 2017
I bought this after watching Butt's outstanding and compelling performance of the work at the Proms: certainly one of the most satisfying live performances of the work I've ever experienced.

I was hugely disappointed by this recording. There is the same dramatic urgency in the direction and, unlike some reviewers, I happen to like the Evangelist (though he was even better at the Proms!) The chief problem is the very poor singing of the choir: I suspect the Proms' forces were rather different and possibly larger. There's no doubt that smaller forces result in a more passionate and dramatic reading. Personally I prefer boys' voices and Higginbottom's performance with New College Oxford would now be my preferred recording of this work.
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on 6 June 2013
Who could say which is the 'best' version of this work? But this recording offers total involvement from the performers, which invites the listener to do the same.
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on 18 April 2013
The two previous reviewers have more or less said it.

I would add to Mr Wilson's comment on "authentic vs grand" -- "grand" often means uninspired as well as pretentious, and this performance is more than just authentic. The performers have apparently read and understood what they are playing and singing. I was especially struck by the feeling of involvement given by the soprano and contralto, the feelings of joy and sorrow that emerge from their arias to a remarkable degree.

The clarity and purity of "small forces" can be very great, and it is here. I can only agree with what Mr Wilson said about "clear and beautiful", and what Mr Wake expressed so well about a small expert force, well directed, giving an agile and expressive rendition.
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on 14 January 2015
Very well performed
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on 1 November 2015
Sadly not a fan of the tone of the Evangelist's voice. Otherwise, an amazing recording.
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on 30 March 2013
Not a long review this,simply to say that having listened to many recordings of this Passion over the last 55 years,and preferring 'authentic'performances rather than the "GRAND"performances of this work,this is by far the best so far.So clear,so unpretentious,just beautiful to listen to,it is all over too soon.WELL worth the price
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on 14 December 2013
Is there any reason to believe that this anorexic sound is the sound that Bach truly wanted? There is no historical reason to suppose that this is how he wanted his music to sound, no reason to believe that this is what he heard in his head.

Part of the problem with the 'authentic' approach is defining what authentic signifies. Surely it is one thing (if possible at all) to be authentic to a certain historical style and quite another to reproduce a close approximation to what a composer heard in his head as he composed. This style of performance is closer to what Bach had to endure (to his dissatisfaction!) rather than that which he would have preferred!

It was Alfred Brendel who wisely pointed out that much of the music of Mozart and Beethoven was beyond the ability of their contemporary pianos. Is it not also true that Bach 'heard' something more in his composing mind than he had to 'listen' to? And doesn't the B minor Mass prove this?

The practitioners of this type of 'authentic' approach are capable of the most fascinating isolated technical and scholarly insights but seem to have lost the art of discerning meaning and intent and have for that reason ceased to be truly interpreters at all. But each to his own - and we have a hitherto undreamt of super-abundance of recordings from which to choose.
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This is a closely prepared and performed magnum opus that joins at least 3 other recordings I have of it and, while its 'originality' has taken some getting used to, I am warming fast to it and recommend it to all Bach aficionados.
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on 30 January 2014
See my review of the Leipzig recording.Sorry John.I suppose it depends on where you come at it from.I love John Butt's work and am a huge fan......but....
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