John Passion - Dunedin Consort - MusicWeb International

Until recently the status of John Eliot Gardiner's recordings of the Bach Passions, Christmas Oratorio and b-minor Mass (DG - see below) was unassailed. John Butt and the Dunedin Consort on Linn challenged the hegemony of Gardiner's Matthew Passion a couple of years ago and now they've done it again with the John Passion. That's an even bigger plus for me because, though it's impossible to choose between two such mighty masterpieces, I tend slightly more towards the St John.

Not only is this an exceptionally fine small-scale performance and recording with scholarly but readable notes, it attempts to bring us closer to the way in which the original listeners experienced the passion on Good Friday - not a particular Good Friday because it's a composite of the various revisions, though as close as possible to the projected 1739 version - but with material from the Lutheran Vespers service as celebrated at Leipzig in the early 18th century.

Thus, before the Passion music, we have the organ chorale prelude: Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund, BWV 621, and the congregational chorale: Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund. As a response to Part 1 we have the organ chorale prelude: O Lamm Gottes unschuldig, BWV 618, and Congregational Chorale: O Lamm Gottes unschuldig, followed by an optional sermon and intercession (available for free separate download). Part 2 is preceded by the organ chorale prelude and the chorale: Christus, der uns selig macht, BWV 620 and the programme is rounded off after Part 2 with the Jakob Handl motet: Ecce quomodo moritur, Responsory, Collect, Blessing, Response to Blessing: Gott sei uns gnädig und barmherzig, organ chorale prelude: Nun danket alle Gott, BWV 657 and congregational chorale: Nun danket alle Gott.

I'm not going to get into the debate about one-to-a-part singing of Bach, merely to say that there is strong evidence to support it and that it works very well here. I said that I had no criticism to offer, but there's one small point which I ought to raise: Ecce quodmodo moritur follows a little too hard on the heels of the end of Bach's final chorale.

The booklet is excellent, as you would expect.

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