This Brilliant Classics boxed set is rather short on the details
of the origins of the recording. It seems to be the one previously
issued on Regis in 1994 and reviewed by Kirk McElhearn here.
On paper this looks rather a tempting recording with quite an
impressive and distinguished cast. This isn't the only record
that the Choir of King's College has made. Notably they featured
on Nicholas Harnoncourt's first recording of the Passion.
Rogers Covey-Crump sings the Evangelist, apparently his only
recording of the role, though he has also recorded the Evangelist
in the St. John Passion. Here he sings beautifully mellifluously,
with quite a light tone and no sense of strain. At times of
high drama, such as when the veil of the temple is rent, he
seems to strain to fill the drama of the part. In fact, though
Covey-Crump sounds beautiful, he does not delve too deep into
the role. A performance of the Passion can be very much influenced
by the Evangelist and here the drama seems to take second place
to the music-making.
Michael George's Christus has noble roots, but he is recorded
quite closely so that his vibrato lends a feeling of instability.
This means that no matter how hard he works his performance
is compromised by this instability.
The four soloists fit in with Covey-Crump's style and presumably
Stephen Cleobury's intentions; drama is low, but musical values
are high. Emma Kirkby is lovely in the soprano solos, but more
than a trifle cool; Aus liebe is simply lovely. Michael
Chance sings the alto solos with a feeling for the drama. Unfortunately
when he puts his voice under pressure it does tend to fray.
Martyn Hill suffers from similar problems to Michael George;
his voice is recorded in such a way that his vibrato introduces
another element of instability. David Thomas is dignified, nicely
grainy but similarly lacking in drama. Michael Chance apart,
you don't really feel that the soloists are affected by the
events of the passion - the drama isn't real to them.
The CD box refers only to the Choir of King's College, but the
booklet also mentions the Choir of Jesus College, so I am unclear
whether the two choirs sing in the whole recording or whether
Jesus College simply provided the ripieno choir for the
major choruses. Though eschewing anything like one singer to
a part, the performance is not massive. The choir and the Brandenburg
Consort provide quite a swift, light account. In fact, at times
it feels that they skate over things a little too much. The
opening chorus, for instance, would benefit from a degree more
depth and weight.
The choir's performance is technically brilliant, with some
nice detailing but like much else on the disc, they rather lack
drama. This must be balanced with the musicality and sheer beauty
of the performance.
The booklet comes with just a track-listing, though you can
download the text from the Brilliant web-site. The box also
comes with a DVD of the performance. Curiously, the box states
that they are performing the 1725 version, one that doesn't
exist. They certainly do not seem to be performing Bach's first
version of the piece. I was unable to review the DVD of the
performance as the DVD in my boxed set proved to be the King's
College performance of Handel's Messiah.
This was rather a disappointment. It certainly is not a recording
which I would recommend as a library choice. Though it lacks
a feel for the drama of Bach's passion, there are plenty of
lovely individual elements. Intelligently sung and nicely modulated,
you can put the disc on and enjoy the moment but these moments
just do not build up into anything greater. At Brilliant's prices
you can afford to buy it and place it next to your Passion of