John Passion - Dunedin Consort - McAlister Matheson Music
The Dunedin Consort presents Bach's Johannes Passion in a liturgical context with which Bach would have been familiar, reconstructing a hypothetical Leipzig service of Vespers for Good Friday. Disc one starts with an organ chorale prelude and congregational chorale; then comes Part 1 of the Passion, followed by the congregational response, again in the form of a chorale with organ prelude. The focal point of the service (the sermon, in German) is not on disc, but is available to download. There follows Part 2 of the Passion, and a short closing liturgy including a motet and congregational chorale. For more detail, John Butt's illuminating booklet essay is well worth reading.
In the congregational chorales the Dunedin Consort is augmented by the University of Glasgow Chapel Choir and, in the unison verses of the chorales, by a number of amateur singers. The effect is thrilling - a large body of people lustily and purposefully singing these chorale melodies, contrasting with the harmony verses sung by smaller forces. There is a further contrast with Bach's Passion music, where the chorales with their complex harmonisations are expressively sung by the Dunedin Consort, and the solo arias are movingly interpreted. The opening chorus is particularly striking for its unsettling turbulence, immediately drawing the listener into the action. Nicholas Mulroy is an impressive Evangelist, expertly varying the speed at which the story progresses. Mention must be made of the simple, unforced clarity of alto Clare Wilkinson's singing, and the sincerity communicated by soprano Joanne Lunn in her arias. The remakarble agility displayed by Matthew Brook in his bass aria with chorus is mattched by the accuracy and delicacy of the choir's contribution. Overall, the standard of singing and playing is very high. This Johannes Passion performance is without doubt the most involving and dramatic I have encountered, its setting within a liturgical context only adding to its impact.