John Passion - Dunedin Consort - Financial Times
Two recordings that make a lively contribution to our understanding of the earliest of the composer's liturgical settings Music at Easter means Bach Passions, but there is nothing predictable about these recordings: each makes a lively contribution to our understanding of the earliest of Bach's liturgical settings. The St John Passion, first performed at Leipzig on Easter Friday 1724, preceded the St Matthew Passion by three years but went through many more revisions, so any notion of "authenticity" - a replica of what Bach performed - is pie-in-the-sky. That gives modern performances a speculative quality, which these scholarly, strongly flavoured recordings acknowledge.
Butt and the Dunedins recreate the context of a performance in Bach's lifetime, interpolating organ music and motets sung by a congregational choir; before a note of the solemn opening chorale "Herr, unser Herrscher" is sounded, we hear organ preludes by Bach and Buxtehude, and a unison chorale by Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630), reinforcing the Passion's devotional purpose.
The choral singing is wonderfully pure, buoyant and transparent. Your choice will depend not just on Butt's add-ons - which I found stimulating and musically all-of-a-piece - but on the soloists. The soprano and bass soloists are all excellent.