> BACH St John's passion Brilliant DVD [KM]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
St. John Passion
John Mark Ainsley, Evangelist
Stephen Richardson, Christus
Catherine Bott, soprano
Michael Chance, alto
Paul Agnew, tenor
Stephen Varcoe, Bass/Pilatus
Kingís College Choir, Cambridge
Brandenburg Consort, Roy Goodman
Direction: Stephen Cleobury
Recorded: King's College Chapel Cambridge
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99780 [115 min.]


Crotchet £9.99


There are few video recordings of this work, one of Bachís two passions, and one of the finest sacred works written in the baroque period. (One other recent recording available on DVD is by Masaaki Suzuki, and is a magnificently emotional performance.) This DVD, recording in the attractive Kingís College in Cambridge, features the excellent Kingís College Choir and the Brandenburg Consort, together with a fine range of top soloists.

This works opens with a choral movement, and the choir shows itself to be fine, though a bit restrained. This is a fairly large choir, with around 40 singers, all boys, but whose sound is never excessive and which never overpowers the orchestra. The Brandenburg Consort, a fine orchestra performing on original instruments, is a tight, well-balanced ensemble - though at times, some of the instruments donít sound quite right. The oboes sound a bit harsh during the aria Von den Stricken meiner Sunden, and there are a few other moments when things sound out of kilter, but this is a recording of a live performance. (Interestingly, one notices things in films that one cannot know when listening to recordings - the Brandenburg Consort is almost all women; there are only three men among the musicians.)

John Mark Ainsley shows himself to be a fine evangelist, though his diction is questionable at times. But he does put a great deal of emotion into his singing, and is certainly one of the best parts of this recording. Michael Chance is also excellent, though his diction also sounds a bit unnatural. One of the high points of the work is the aria Es ist vollbracht! with Michael Chance singing over a moving obbligato viola da gamba. The viol takes centre stage and is well in front of the continuo, and Chance weaves his singing over this plaintive instrument with great subtlety. Soprano Catherine Bott is quite good, and has a very pure voice, though goes a bit heavy on the vibrato. Her performance of the emotional aria Zerfliesse, mein Herze is stunning, though she sounds as if she is restraining her voice a bit and not going as far as she could. Tenor Paul Agnew gives a very good performance as well, standing out in the few arias where he is present.

There is a small problem with the recording. The soloists are spread out across the soundscape, which is normal for a CD recording, but when there is a close-up of a singer and their voice sounds as if it is on the side, itís a bit jarring. In addition, at times certain soloists are heard to one side, and at others in the centre. This is mildly annoying, though not severe, but more attention should be paid to the balance in films of music like this.

This is a very good recording, with excellent musicians and soloists. While it lacks the profound emotion of the recent Suzuki DVD of this work, it is a bargain at its low price, and should not disappoint anyone familiar with this great sacred work.

Kirk McElhearn

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