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
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.