Founded in 1972 at the suggestion of Deutsche Harmonia Mundi and led since its inception by Dutch violinist turned conductor Sigiswald Kuijken, La Petite Bande is surely among the finest of early music orchestras with a discography ranging from Lully through Mozart. Among the group's most successful projects, however, have been recordings of Bach's sacred works, particularly the 1985 Mass in B minor and this 1987 St. John Passion. Both are superbly performed with excellent solo and choral singing and outstanding orchestral playing, but both are distinctly dissimilar in tone and effect…
As one of the 20th century's most acclaimed Bach interpreters, Karl Richter devotes his expertise to this monumental epic of Christ's final hours, tapping the power of Bach's rich choral writing for a rendering of startling immediacy - for the first time on DVD.
Filmed in the architectural splendour of Graz's Gothic-Baroque cathedral, leading Bach authority Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducts the famed Tölz Boys Choir and his Vienna Concentus Musicus, playing on period instruments, in the most dramatic of all Passion settings. "In this performance we have attempted to realize Bach's wishes in the most authentic manner possible" (Nikolaus Harnoncourt). "A unique occasion" (Kurier).
Most of us come to the Saint John Passion knowing the Saint Matthew Passion first. The bigger and more elaborate Saint Matthew, which came along three, or possibly five years later (there is controversy about the date), has tended to cast a shadow in which the earlier work is swallowed up, and this has been so ever since Mendelssohn's Saint Matthew performance in 1829 marked the beginning of the public rediscovery of J.S. Bach. (The professionals had never forgotten.) But if the Saint John is smaller in scale than the Saint Matthew, it is hardly the lesser work in quality, though it would of course be silly to claim that the master of the Saint Matthew Passion had not learned from the experience of setting Saint John. But the most interesting differences between these two towering attestations of faith are differences in intention. Read Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, and John 18-19, and you get four tellings of the last days in the life of Jesus that differ in tone, emphasis, and detail…
“clear diction and outstandingly responsive singing throughout is the biggest single asset of the performance. Superbly dynamic the set is obligatory for all committed Bachians.” (Fanfare)
Bach’s St. John Passion with a star-studded lineup of soprano Johennette Zomer, countertenor Andreas Scholl, tenor Mark Padmore, and bass Klaus Mertens, conducted by Ton Koopman, was bound to be—and indeed was—an enjoyable affair. A little over two years ago the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra performed the B-minor Mass with him, now they tackled the ‘smaller’ Passion…
Hermann Max came to the fore in the first place with the Rheinische Kantorei and the Baroque Orchestra Das Kleine Konzert through a series of productions for the Westdeutscher Rundfunk. He is considered as one of the principal researchers and developers of the HIP, which has become the prevailing approach to the performance of early music today. The ideals that guided him in directing his choir are based on the Italian tradition: a bright sound, precise diction, secure intonation, transparency and lightness.
The first thing to note is that this is the 1725 revision of Bach's St. John Passion, not the original 1724 version that is usually performed. This will become immediately apparent to those familiar with the score, as the opening chorus is entirely different in the later revision. Bach substitutes a few of the arias, too, and commentators seem in agreement that this later edition is in fact more incisively dramatic. Philippe Herreweghe has already made a superb recording of the original version, but here the conductor assembles an even finer group of singers for this newer account. Mark Padmore is a marvelously expressive, sweet-toned Evangelist. Sibylla Rubens's agile soprano voice is a joy to the ear. Sebastian Noack's bass seems light at first, but his bright, lyrical sound contrasts effectively with the deeper, more sonorous tone of Michael Volle's Jesus. Countertenor Andreas Scholl, a favorite collaborator of Herreweghe's, is simply stunning. (Andrew Farach-Colton)
In the history of Bach’s musical legacy, the St John Passion has always stood in the shadow of the St Matthew Passion. The repercussions of the first revival of the St Matthew after Bach’s death, which took place in Berlin under the direction of the twenty-year-old Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, decisively contributed to gaining it a unique position. But at the same time the great success of the St Matthew aroused a wider interest in Bach’s large-scale vocal works that initially benefited the St John Passion above all.
By Charles Johnston
This is an important document, not least because what is actually captured on these discs is the first performance of this work since 1772. The score is presently housed in the archive of the Berlin Sing-Akademie after its discovery in the Ukraine. C.P.E.’s version of the Christ story is a dynamic one, with plenty of drama and much interaction between the various soloists and the chorus - a chorus that represents the Jews as well as performing the chorales.