John Passion - Dunedin Consort -

A Passion with a difference - all to our good.

Somewhat unusually for one of Bach's great choral works, the Johannes-Passion is rather thin on the ground as far as SACD goes. My library version until now was Bach: St. John Passion - Netherlands Bach Society but this surpasses it for musical intensity and the imaginative presentation of the the work. John Butt presents this work as part of a service, opening with Bach's Chorale Prelude "Da Jesus an dem Kreuze Stund". This is then followed by Schein's Congregational Chorale of the same title before an extract from Buxtehude's Organ Prelude to the Passion leads gloriously into Part One of Bach's work.

It is immediately apparent when comparing the van Veldhoven release that Butt inspires another layer of spiritual intensity; the forces are the same size and are as follows:
Nicholas Mulroy (Evangelista & Tenor Concertist)
Matthew Brook (Jesus & Bass Concertist)
Robert Davies (Petrus & Pilatus)
Stephen Chambers (Servus)
Joanne Lunn (Ancilla & Soprano Concertist)
Clare Wilkinson (Alto Concertist)
Katie Trethewey (Soprano Ripienist)
Alexandra Gibson (Alto Ripienist)
Malcolm Bennett (Tenor Ripienist)
Christopher Borrett (Bass Ripienist)

The power of expression in "Herr, unser Herrscher" is almost unbearable from the strings that nag away to the pained counterpoint in the chorus - the devotion is almost painful and, if one didn't now different, this would make one question if Bach had in fact composed an opera. This comes ever more prominently to mind with the expert pacing and phrasing (at both the levels of musical sentence and paragraph).

As before in Butt's recordings of Bach's work, no detail is left unattended and the way the short choral chorales take on a pivotal role in the drama is indicative of his approach. The singers from Jesus upwards (in a notational sense) respond with equal regard and audibly give their all to recitatives and aria's alike. At the end of Part One, Butt performs Bach's Chorale Prelude "O Lamm Gottes unschuldig" and, as before, the University of Glasgow Chapel Choir under James Grossmith sing Schein's Congregational Chorale of the same name. At this point of the service, one can turn to for a free download of a suitable sermon & intercession (this is not present on the SACD's) from the Sermon Section within The Leipzig Service of Vespers for Good Friday (German language). There are also two tracks, one each from John Butt & Robin Holloway, offering their thoughts on the John Passion.

Part Two is preceded by Bach's Chorale Prelude "Christus, der uns selig macht"; both this Chorale Prelude and up to & including the tenor aria "Erwäge, wie sein blutgefärbter Rücken" are also on disc one, causing a split. This is the one downside of setting Bach's masterpiece as if in the middle of a church service. Fortunately, one needs would normally expect some moments of repose after such an aria so it is not of much consequence in terms of breaking the spell of the drama.

At the conclusion of Part Two, we are offered Jacob Handl Gallus' "Ecce quomodo moritur", the Responsary, Collect, Blessing from the Leipzig service and Schein's "Gott sei uns gnädig und barmherzig" (UoGCC/Grossmith) before, as in the opening of this liturgical event, Butt plays Bach's Chorale Prelude "Nun danket alle Gott" with Schein's Congregational Chorale rounding off the proceedings with a pleasing sense of organisational symmetry. I would normally highlight the contribution of one or more singers, players but it would be unfair to do so - every last one is deserving of the same praise.

The recording, made in the Greyfriar's Kirk (Edinburgh), is exemplary in one not attracting attention to itself. In many ways, this is similar to the approach of the musicians - so completely attuned to Bach's music, you only hear the notes, never them. The notes are detailed and a valuable commentary from Butt himself (no less than 10 pages worth).

Inspirational on every level.
16 March 2013