John Passion - Dunedin Consort - Early Music Review

The Dunedin Consort's John passion is something else. The result of careful research into the Good Friday Vespers Liturgy in Leipzig gives us a context that includes congregational singing of the proper chorales (with alternative verses in unison - 3 octaves!) and organ preludes on the tunes, carefully chosen so that part of the Buxtehude Prelude in F# minor played on the substantial Peter Collins organ in Greyfriars at 440 leads directly into the opening chorus of the Bach Passion. Similar sections surround the sermon - downloadable with other material - between Parts 1 and 2, and follow the Jacob Handl Motet at the end. This is welcome both for understanding the practical as well as the theological context in which Bach wrote and re-wrote the material we know as the John Passion over a long period, and musically the performance by the University of Glasgow Chapel choir provides just that vigorous hymn-singing contrast to the Dunedin Consort's extraordinarily nuances sound-world. If you've read John Butt's Bach's Dialogue with Modernity (CUP 2010), then this is the worked out musical counterpart.

In BWV 24 itself, there is everything you might expect - rather too brawny for the very delicate Erwge. Both Joanne Lunn and Clare Wilkinson were made for this kind of singing - voices that seem to have been formed in small consort ensembles, yet characterful with flute or oboe (Alexandra Bellamy - so good). Matthew Brook not only sings Jesus with conviction, but is splendidly lighter in the wonderful Mein teurer Heiland, whose accompanying chorale provides one of the texts for the Erdmann Neumeister sermon. But what is so very special is the ensemble - voices and instruments perfectly balanced without any recourse that I can tell to the endless rebalancing that sound engineers practise. He pairs of violins play so well in tune that it's hard to imagine there are two of them, and nowhere do jay instruments fail to be heard as equal partners, though the words are always crystal clear.

This is far and away the most musical and satisfying performance around among the many, many versions available; no-one - however many recordings you have of the John passion - should be without it.

Early Music Review
04 April 2013