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Bach: St. John Passion
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Bach: St. John Passion
Philippe Herreweghe uses the second of Bach's four versions of the St. John Passion, the one from 1725, which substitutes some of the arias and the opening chorus, along with lesser changes. The result is somewhat more dramatic than the standard version, which Herreweghe recorded previously. Those familiar with the conductor's work will find his usual warmth, making the most of the lyric moments, but they'll also find greater sensitivity to rhythmic and dramatic thrust and a generally livelier approach. The singers are uniformly fine. Padmore is an unusually effective Evangelist, projecting the drama without undue overacting. Many will want this for Andreas Scholl's countertenor solos, which are first-rate, but the magnificent "Es ist vollbracht" will disappoint those familiar with the greater depth of renditions by contraltos like Maureen Forrester and Janet Baker. Bright-voiced soprano Sibylla Rubens is another attraction, singing with fervor, and the orchestra and chorus of the Collegium Vocale Ghent are outstanding. This attractively packaged set goes to the head of the class. --Dan Davis
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In order to avoid confusion: the 1725 version of the St John Passion is the second version, and is far different from the first one. It does not have the chorus "Herr unser Herrscher" at the start, but "O Mensch, bewein' dein Sünde gross", which Bach moved to the conclusion of Part 1 of the St Matthew Passion in 1736. Bach also replaced a few arias by newer ones, some of which are more dramatic.
The St John Passion that is most often performed, is based on the first version, composed in 1724. In fact it's a mixture of the 1724 version and a version that Bach started writing some years later but neither completed, nor performed himself. This best-known version was recorded by Philippe Herreweghe many years earlier (and a quite good performance), but has more competition, for instance the Koopman, Harnoncourt and Gardiner recordings.
(Van Veldhoven recorded a conjectured pre-1724 version, really well done; a fine recording by Suzuki of the 1749 version, which is very much like the 1724 version but with a few text changes, is on YouTube.)
Unfortunately, the presentation text by Herr Thomas Seedorf is totally misleading!True, this is the 1725 version of this masterpiece, but when Seedorf pretends that this is a revision of the commonly known version, he is completely off the track. In fact, the definitive version, the one published as BWV 245 by the Bach Gesellschaft, is A REVISION OF THIS VERSION!So when Seedorf writes "...this prompted the composer to replace the original framing choruses(Herr, unser Herrscher and Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein) with two large-scale chorale arrangements in this 1725 score.", he is reversing the historical facts. In addition to the Grove Dictionary of Music, I have three books on Bach by three eminent scholars: Albert Schweitzer, Karl Geiringer and Jacques Chailley, the last one being exclusively devoted to Bach's Passions. Well, they all agree that the BWV 245 score, which is the definitive version, is based on the 1725 version, but with certain sections having been removed and replaced by other pieces.Among these sections, the "tender chorale arrangement, which formed the beginning of the St.John Passion, was replaced by an imposing chorus which expressed in a grandiose fashion the fundamental idea of the Passion: the celestial power opposed to the terrestrial suffering. Bach canceled also the aria "Ach windet euch"(BWV 245c) and replaced it with one of the summits of the work, the arioso Betrachte meine Seele and the aria that follows, Erwaege"(my own translation of the French Geiringer text). Schweitzer and Chailley are of the same opinion. For Chailley, "we possess three arias withdrawn fom the original version.They were published as Appendices in the Bach-Gesellschaft.One, Himmelreisse, followed choral No 15;another, Zerschmettert mich, was replaced by aria No.10;the arioso for bass No.17, Betrachte Mein Seel' and the aria for tenor that follows,No.18, Erwaege, took the place of a tenor aria, Ach windet euch.In addition, the magnificent chorus of introduction, Herr unser Herrscher was written later to replace the development of the choral O Mensch bewein which previously opened the St John in E-flat and which, transposed in E natural, became the final chorus of the first part of St.Matthew."(Also my translation from Chailley's French text).This is all perfectly clear... So it is impossible to follow Seedorf in this totally misleading presentation.
When I purchased this wonderful recording, some time ago, I wrote to Harmonia Mundi telling them about this, and they acknowledged my mail. But I don't know if they are actually going to do something about it, except maybe revise the presentation text for the next edition of this CD box. At any rate, I hope they will, because it should be unacceptable for them to provide their customers with wrong information...