John Passion Live - Dunedin Consort - The Arts Desk

The greatest, though, was always going to be last: Bach's St John Passion given in the fascinating context - which absolutely did work - of a reconstructed Leipzig Good Friday vespers service. John Butt has been performing these dedicated imaginings with his Dunedin Consort for some years now, and their recordings are among the best Bach, which is saying something, but I'd never experienced the venture live until now. Chorale Preludes were part of the picture, plus earlier chorale settings in which those members of the audience who'd forked out for a programme - two took some picking up without the music printed out too as I wasn't familiar with them - and a revelatory glimpse of a highly original F sharp minor Prelude, regrettably abridged, by Buxtehude to lead us into Bach's opening chorus in the same key.

Predictably, on the evidence of their recordings, the Dunedin Consort and Choir blazed intensity from the start, searing strings with the occasional bass line surging to the fore and painful, clashing woodwind complemented by one of the best groups of singers in the business. The soloists participated in the opening tidal wave. Our Evangelist was Nicholas Mulroy, a little taxed by the vast space but as committed a from-memory narrator as you could wish (footnote - on subsequent TV viewing, he sounds perfect).

His fellow tenor for the arias, Andrew Tortise, is a true original; "Ach, mein Sinn," the aria of Peter's regret at his denial, touched those depths you always dream of achieving in the best meditations. So, too, did counter-tenor Tim Mead's exquisite, hall-filling beauty of sound in "Es ist Vollbracht" and the balm of Sophie Bevan's "Zerfliesse, mein Herze" (Bevan and Butt pictured below). These two really know how to blend instrumentally with the orchestral soloists - all superb, and it was fascinating to hear the two violins with the mutes on, but an essential special mention has to go to Jonathan Manson, principal cellist and crucial viola da gamba solo.

The Arts Desk
21 August 2017