Reviewed by John Irvine
Only two of Bach's passion settings have survived: this is the earlier, and the less well known. Hopefully this recording will help rectify that. In no way is the St John Passion inferior to the St Matthew Passion. The notes included in the CD set help explain the significance of St John's Passion as compared with Bach's other works and with the works of his contemporaries. The notes are both concise and precise and are sensible as well as scholarly. This is a slightly unusual recording in that the alto part is in fact sung by a man, ie, a counter tenor (a bloke singing falsetto). The man in question, James Bowman, is the leading counter tenor and is much in demand as a soloist. This recording shows why: Bowman gives a firm and restrained, almost devotional reading of the text. The other soloists, and the choir, are equally superb, a joy to listen to. 'Original' or 'period' instruments are used in this recording, to my mind definitely the best way to experience Bach, since these were the instruments he wrote for, not their modern equivalents. He was well acquainted with the instruments, their tonal characteristics and their capabilities, considerations which modern instruments and their players seem to have difficulty recapturing. This, however, is a superb recording of a masterpiece and well worth investigating.
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