Bach: St John Passion (CD Review - The Daily Telegraph, 2013)

5 Stars

On Good Friday at London’s St John’s Smith Square, Stephen Layton will conduct Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Bach’s St John Passion. These Polyphony performances of the masterworks marking the church’s major festivals have become a key constituent of the concert calendar, but this is the first time that the choir has committed an extended Bach work to disc. It will not be the last: the Christmas Oratorio can be expected later in the year. In the meantime this St John Passion brings to the fore the traits of style and taste that are distinguished hallmarks of Layton and the forces he gathers around him.

The cast here, with one or two exceptions, is the same as the one that will be singing next Friday. Ian Bostridge is the tenor Evangelist, eloquent, pure of tone, fluent and strong in communicating the import of the German narrative. Neal Davies is a Christus of tender authority. The choir sings with a well-rounded sound, firm accents and with diction that brings the text crisply to life: the spitting out of the word nicht in the passage where the crowd asserts that it has delivered Jesus up to Pilate because he is a malefactor is just one example of how attentive this performance is to the colouring of words.

It has been said that the St John Passion has affinities with Baroque opera in its almost theatrical evocation of time and place. Layton, with a fine quartet of soloists in Carolyn Sampson, Iestyn Davies, Nicholas Mulroy and Roderick Williams, harnesses the dramatic thrust of the Passion while also conveying its sacred, spiritual substance.


Reviewed by Geoffrey Norris 
The Daily Telegraph

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