> BACH St John's passion 99795 [KM]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
St. John Passion
Marcel Beekman, Tenor (Evangelist)
Robert Muuse, Baritone (Christ)
Marjon Strijk, Soprano
Bas Ramselaar, Bass
Syste Buwalda, Alto
Martinus Leusink, Tenor
Holland Boys Choir, Netherlands Bach Collegium,
Pieter Jan Leusink conductor
Recorded January 2001, Grote Kerk Elburg


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Jan Pieter Leusink, who recorded an excellent series of Bach’s sacred cantatas for Brilliant Classics, here presents his take on the St. John Passion, one of Bach’s two remaining passions. The St. John is the shorter of the two, at around two hours long, and is musically as great and intense as the more famous St. Matthew Passion. Leusink gives this work a lot of energy, and relatively fast tempi, presenting not a stark work but one with great vigour. Musically, this recording has great transparency, with a small orchestra well recorded.

Bach’s two passions, as well as his masses, depend greatly on choirs. In their opening movements, the choir rings out with energy and emotion, and it is essential that the tone be established from the beginning. Unfortunately, the otherwise excellent Holland Boys Choir gives this work too much of a high sound - the choir sounds as though it is top-heavy. The higher range voices sound clearly, but the middle and lower ranges are attenuated. It is hard to tell if it is the sound of the church or the recording itself, but there seems to be a dimension missing in the larger choral movements. The smaller choral parts, those which merely reproduce hymns, sound quite good - in these parts, the choral texture is excellent. It sounds as though the higher voices are absent, or, at least, fewer are used.

This recording has some very good points, however. Evangelist Marcel Beekman is excellent, and he definitely joins the ranks of those rare singers who can give the appropriate feeling and emotion to this role. Syste Buwalda, whose performances in Jan Pieter Leusink’s cantata series, ranged from good to poor, is acceptable here. His voice sounds clear and rich, and his energy is present. Soprano Marjon Strijk, a singer whose voice sounds almost boyish at times, is good, but some of her singing is weak. In one of Bach’s finest arias, Zerfleisse, mein Herze, she lacks the force and energy necessary to give this melody the felling it calls for.

One negative comment about the notes - while they include the text of the passion (and nothing more), this is unfortunately only in German.

This is a good recording of one of Bach’s finest vocal works, though the choir disappoints in the large movements, which is where the most emotion is in this work. Given its budget price, it is a worthy purchase, although there are better recordings of this work (especially the amazing recording by Suzuki, on Bis). Those seeking strong and moving choral parts will be disappointed by this, though the overall tone of the work is good.



Kirk McElhearn



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