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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1739)
St. John Passion (1724) [110:48]
Evangelist - Ian Honeyman (tenor); Christ - Werner van Mechelen (bass); Greta De Reyghere (soprano); Steve Dugardin (alto); Stuart Patterson (tenor); Dirk Snellings (bass)
Il Fondamento/Paul Dombrecht
rec. live, April 1996, Begijnhofkerk Sint Truiden, Belgium
PASSACAILLE 912 [34.17 + 76.31] 
Experience Classicsonline

The Belgian period group Il Fondamento are twenty this year. Perhaps this explains the issue of this 13 year old live recording of the St. John Passion. The recording does not seem to have appeared on disc before and it is a little difficult to work out why someone should have thought that it was worth issuing now. Not that the performance is all bad; I imagine that if you were in the audience then you might well have enjoyed much of it. But there is little here that is special. Somehow the performance fails to take wing. In a crowded field there are just too many other candidates.

Conductor Paul Dombrecht uses quite traditional forces, with a choir of some 15 singers and an instrumental ensemble of 22. His group has developed something of a reputation in instrumental music and it is the orchestral and instrumental contributions which stand out. The opening of the Passion promises much with lively and seductive playing from Il Fondamento, but when the chorus come in they fail to match the instrumentalists’ sophistication. The choral sound is rather ordinary and flat, nowhere near as expressive as it ought to be. However, things improve in the chorales, when the chorus shape the lines with a nice flexibility. Even so, the closing chorus is rather disappointing.

As the Evangelist, Ian Honeyman is admirably mellifluous, singing with beautiful tone which only very occasionally seems pushed by the tessitura. He and Dombrecht seem to be rather fond of large-scale (almost romantic) musical gestures. But in the smaller details, Honeyman fails to display the intensity which other singers bring to this role. His performance sounds lovely, but does not always grip. Werner Van Mechelen has rather a covered tone as Christus. He doesn’t do anything very bad but remains just promising, never quite managing the depth of tone which this role needs.

Soprano Greta De Reyghere has a pleasant, rather small-scale voice which provides some attractive focused tone and a nice line in flexibility of line. Steve Dugardin’s alto has a slightly feminine feel to it and in the slower moving passages he is profoundly attractive. He has technical difficulties when it comes to the fast moving passagework, though this is a fault which applies to the other soloists at various times.

Tenor Stuart Patterson’s timbre simply failed to impress me; it seemed too edgy for the role and he strained too much in the upper register. Bass Dirk Snellings also had rather a covered tone and his passagework was none too clean.

The CD booklet includes full German text but no translation, though the introductory essay and biographies are in English.

I would like to have been more enthusiastic about this set. I think that Paul Dombrecht’s conducting has much to admire in it, and with a stronger set of soloists this could have been a compelling disc. As Dombrecht chooses the traditional route, rather than one to a part, there is little in terms of stylistic qualities or performance practice which sets this disc apart from its rivals. This is definitely for Paul Dombrecht/Il Fondamento enthusiasts only.

Robert Hugill



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