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Bach: St. John Passion

4.6 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Bach, J.S.: St. John Passion
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Product Details

  • Performer: Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Nancy Argenta, Neill Archer, Cornelius Hauptmann, Michael Chance, et al.
  • Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner
  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Audio CD (February 9, 1987)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Archiv
  • ASIN: B0000057CW
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,525 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By ewomack TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 10, 2004
Format: Audio CD
Bach supposedly wrote 5 passions, two of which survive complete. Of one only the libretto survives, and supposedly pieces of one passion exist in one of Bach's Cantatas. The St. John's Passion is the earliest extant passion of Bach's (composed in the 1720s), and, seeing that the enormous and overwhelming St.Matthew Passion also still exists complete, it has lived in the shadow of its grand predecessor. Not to mention that Bach revised and rummaged through the St.John Passion throughout his life, so there can be no claim to a standard or definitive version (this is not the case with the St. Matthew Passion).
This Passion is great in its own right. If the St.Matthew Passion did not exist, this work could almost take its place. Right from the opening bars it will be evident that great music is on its way, and it doesn't let up throughout the entire piece.
Structurally, the work is almost identical to the St. Matthew Passion, in that it is made up of Recitatives, choruses, and arias. A character named "Evangelist" tells the details of the story in recatitive; arias typically express the feelings of individual characters; and the choruses provide emotional and spiritual reflection on the current scenes. The piece is meant for Christian consumption, and allows the listener to identify with Jesus' suffering and sacrifice through music. Music doesn't typically get more religious than this. However, the music is so amazing that it can be enjoyed even on a non-religious level.
John Eliot Gardiner, The English Baroque Soloists, and the Monteverdi Choir are all in top form here. The performances are impeccable.
The 76-page CD booklet contains a fascinating history of the passion form.
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Format: Audio CD
The choral group that I belong to alternates yearly Good Friday performances of J. S. Bach's St. John and St. Matthew Passions, and this year we're singing the former. Although Bach performed his work with male altos and sopranos, we employ female voices in the chorus, and the Monteverdi choir on this recording splits the difference and uses female sopranos and male altos.
The English Baroque Soloists perform the orchestral accompaniment on period instruments, which allow them to balance their sound very beautifully against the chorus, even though there are more instrumentalists than singers. I believe the reason our music director uses his adult choir rather than his boys' choir on Good Friday is that his orchestra (pick-up musicians) with their modern instruments would tend to dominate the young voices.
So it is a pleasure to hear the more authentic Bach on this Archiv Produktion CD, even though there is no substitute for the experience of actually singing this mighty work. John Eliot Gardiner is able to speed his smaller, more flexible choir through the turbo choruses at tempi that must elicit a wistful sigh from my music director. His handling of the chorales sustains the emotional build-up of the Passion setting, and reinforces the listener's understanding as to why hymns were (and are) such an important part of a Protestant service.
The distinguished English tenor, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, sings the Evangelist in a clear, poignant tenor that is well-suited to this difficult role.
All of this recording's soloists sing their arias with intelligence and grace, but for me the final chorus is the emotional culmination of this Passion: "Rest well, rest well, Beloved, sweetly sleeping. That I may cease from further weeping, and let me too, rest well."
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is indisputably a deeply moving Passion setting, less famous than the St. Matthew's by the same composer, but still worthy to be part of your life. I don't quibble about details of "authentic" performance practice, but am happy to let conductors and ensembles make a case for their own approach, and in my opinion this one works very well. It has grandeur without being pompous.
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Format: Audio CD
There are indeed no words to describe this extraordinary recording. Bach composed it and J.E. Gardiner performs it exquisitely. Never in my life I have been that impressed. "Herr, unser Herrscher", the crowning chorus, made me literally crying. "Von den stricken", "Eilt, ihr angefochtenen sunden", "Zerfliesse, mein herze", everything is almost excrutiatingly beautiful, divine.
And all these sincere recommendations from someone always restrined in giving good reviews. Yet, this work and the way it's performed are, with the risk of repeting myself, beyond words.
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Format: Audio CD
This is probably the greatest recording of the St. John Passion I have ever heard, and I have heard quite a few. The strings aren't screechy (as another review claimed); it's the timbre of the period instruments, and Gardiner uses their stridency to great effect, evoking a sense of urgency and consternation that would not be possible with modern stringed instruments. The oboes have a similar quality (and when they are combined with the strings in the first chorale it sounds almost like someone wailing in despair).

I love this recording. The soloists are beyond reproach, and the voicings are perfectly blended almost everywhere so the counterpoint is utterly clear. Most importantly, however, the tremendous depth of this music is not lost despite the intellectual rigor that Gardiner brings to the music.

Much of "historically informed" performance, unfortunately, sounds academic, dry, and purely intellectual; while the performer often has an impressive cerebral understanding of the piece and its historical context, he or she is not able to transcend the intellect and get to the heart of the music. Gardiner can and does with this recording.
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