Classical Music Home

The World's Leading Classical Music Group

Email Password  
Not a subscriber yet?
Keyword Search
in
 
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews



 
See latest reviews of other albums...

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, July 2011

Bach’s 1750 obituary claimed that he had written five passions. Only the St. John Passion (1724) and the St. Matthew Passion (1727) have survived in their entirety. Two others are lost and the St. Mark Passion, BWV 247 from 1731 appears in a reconstructed version. The St. John was first performed in 1724 in the St. Nicholas Church, Leipzig. Bach primarily uses texts from the St. John Gospel with the remainder taken from variety of sources, including chorales.

The score, it seems, exists in four versions prepared for performances in 1724, 1725, 1732 and 1749 with an incomplete one from 1739. Here on this Newton reissue that I recall being released on Philips Classics, Schreier uses the 1724 edition also providing as an appendix three arias from the revised version prepared by Bach for a 1725 revival.

Throughout I found the Leipzig Rundfunkchor in fine form making a satisfying flowing sound. Their numerous choruses are marked by impressive unison, fresh, refined and often compelling. Occasionally the emphasis on certain words didn’t always make sense. I didn’t find any of the soloists to be stunningly impressive although the overall effect was gratifying.

The conductor Peter Schreier in his tenor role of the Evangelist and singing the other tenor arias is more than capable of the responsibility and demonstrates remarkable resilience. As the Evangelist he does remarkably well in the sung recitatives maintaining the continuity of the scenario. In the aria Ach, mein Sinn and the extended and difficult Erwäge, wie sein blutgefärbter Rücken Schreier’s tones were bright and resonant being extremely well controlled. I enjoyed the arioso Mein Herz, in dem die ganze most agreeably performed with considerable reverence. The additional arias from the 1725 version Zerschmettert mich, ihr Felsen und ihr Hügel and Ach windet euch nicht so, geplagte Seelen are well sung, bright and sparkling with the latter conveying an especially impressive piety.

Mezzo-soprano Marjana Lipovšek in her aria Von den Stricken meiner Sünden sounded a touch nervous with her usually firm voice rather lacking in fluidity. Her voice is not large being easily swamped by the pair of oboes. I enjoyed her expressive rendition of the heartbreaking Es ist vollbracht! accompanied by the distinctive viola da gamba. Olaf Bär the baritone in the bass arioso with viole d’amore and lute Betrachte, meine Seel, mit ängstlichem Vergnügen displays an agreeably smooth timbre. In the Eilt, ihr angefochtnen Seelen the diction is pleasing however the delivery could be more responsive.

Throughout I enjoyed the role played by soprano Roberta Alexander most notably in her Ich folge dir gleichfalls mit freudigen Schritten. She is accompanied splendidly by the demandingly hyperactive flute part. Her girl-like vocals are highly engaging if lacking a certain degree of flexibility. In Zerfließe, mein Herze, in Fluten der Zähren with parts for flute and oboe da caccia she presents with reverence her burnished high register. At times her use of ornamentation felt a touch awkward and rather inappropriate. Sturdy bass Robert Holl offering a sombre quality to his role as Christ was a touch too vigorous. I found the baritone Andreas Scheibner a rather characterless Pontius Pilate.

The sound of this Newton Classics reissue is especially well balanced but it would have benefited from a slightly sharper focus to improve the clarity. On CD 2 from track 10 the track numbering in the booklet goes awry not matching the sequence titles.

Overall this is an enjoyable account but there are superior alternative versions in the catalogue.



William J Gatens
American Record Guide, July 2011

…it is a performance that can be heard with great satisfaction for its singleminded conviction and technical polish.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.



howsweetthesound
, April 2011

Exquisite presentation of the Passion Story according to St John

At the first notes, the listener is thrust into the scene of the plodding, dragging, ominous pace of Christ’s torment—the imagination views Jesus hauling the cross through the city streets to Golgotha and crucifixion. The choir in its role of the Chorus rivets attention on the shock and dismay of standing in the midst of this horror. The pace is slow and agonizing, evoking the pain and hopelessness of the scene, and the crowd cries “Lord!! Lord!!”

The parts played in a traditional Passion format are executed flawlessly by the soloists and the Leipzig Radio Chorus and the Dresdner Staatskapelle under the direction of Peter Schreier. A new listener would be encouraged to familiarize himself with this format for richer understanding of the performance.

The Chorus again strikes home in “Let us then not cut or tear” in deciding to cast lots for the woven robe at the feet of the dead. The pettiness, gossip—sssh—ttsh—whisper—talk—tttsh—ssh sound through to underscore our own human reactions as the scavengers collect and divide the garments of the crucified Christ.

All soloists meet and exceed expectations for their particular roles in the drama. Selecting “best” is not possible among all-superior performances. The Chorus, however, in a forced ranking, would take first place. They play their parts memorably in every way: their diction is crisp; tempo never drags; there is no “punching” of notes; emotions guide the audience at every step. The Chorus assumes varied roles and plays them to perfection: the background painter, the chorus, the crowd, and the reliable provider of the chorale for instruction and reflection.

The Evangelist Peter Schreier presents the narrative clearly and dramatically.

The soprano’s lyrical, colorful, accurate portrayal of the follower with a light pace in contrast to the heavy dreary opening scene brings us to the threshold of the reason for this story of agony—that Christ was sacrificed for the life, the soul of sinners. Roberta Alexander’s high notes never lose the lilt and color of the joy of the follower, the lightness of the release from sin.

Later the mezzo-soprano Marjana Lipovsek soothes the stunned audience to say that all these events have transpired in the verification of ancient prophecy—“It is fulfilled.” None of it is a surprise. The prediction has come to pass.

The bass aria “Bethink, thee, O my soul” seals the innermost connection with the listener. It envelops the listener in peaceful comfort amidst the frantic happenings. When the audience is wrapped in the emotion of the aria “Run, run, …run ye souls” and scatters wildly, suddenly the Chorus injects a whisper “ run where?” which introduces a tiny glimmer of escape from this devastation—that is, the soul has a hope beyond this grim end. During the progression of the Passion story, this glimmer is developed into the salvation that is the basis for Christianity.

The booklet accompanying this recording provides important instruction and background to enhance the hearing of this work. Written for Good Friday 1724, Bach instructs the congregation about the Passion story, evokes the emotional reactions of the individual, takes the sinner to the depths of introspection and sorrow, and informs us of the release at the end of the narrative. The listener is not a casual observer, but a soul in the crowd participating in the events and feelings of the Crucifixion.

The great master musician J.S. Bach has borne us on a musical journey to feel the Passion narrative from scripture, and to experience the emotion that is central to understanding the story. After nearly 300 years, this music is as relevant and personal as it was the day it was composed; doubtless it will continue to inspire and comfort for many centuries to come.



howsweetthesound
Customer/Personal Review, April 2011

Exquisite presentation of the Passion Story according to St John

At the first notes, the listener is thrust into the scene of the plodding, dragging, ominous pace of Christ’s torment—the imagination views Jesus hauling the cross through the city streets to Golgotha and crucifixion. The choir in its role of the Chorus rivets attention on the shock and dismay of standing in the midst of this horror. The pace is slow and agonizing, evoking the pain and hopelessness of the scene, and the crowd cries “Lord!! Lord!!”

The parts played in a traditional Passion format are executed flawlessly by the soloists and the Leipzig Radio Chorus and the Dresdner Staatskapelle under the direction of Peter Schreier. A new listener would be encouraged to familiarize himself with this format for richer understanding of the performance.

The Chorus again strikes home in “Let us then not cut or tear” in deciding to cast lots for the woven robe at the feet of the dead. The pettiness, gossip—sssh—ttsh—whisper—talk—tttsh—ssh sound through to underscore our own human reactions as the scavengers collect and divide the garments of the crucified Christ.

All soloists meet and exceed expectations for their particular roles in the drama. Selecting “best” is not possible among all-superior performances. The Chorus, however, in a forced ranking, would take first place. They play their parts memorably in every way: their diction is crisp; tempo never drags; there is no “punching” of notes; emotions guide the audience at every step. The Chorus assumes varied roles and plays them to perfection: the background painter, the chorus, the crowd, and the reliable provider of the chorale for instruction and reflection.

The Evangelist Peter Schreier presents the narrative clearly and dramatically.

The soprano’s lyrical, colorful, accurate portrayal of the follower with a light pace in contrast to the heavy dreary opening scene brings us to the threshold of the reason for this story of agony—that Christ was sacrificed for the life, the soul of sinners. Roberta Alexander’s high notes never lose the lilt and color of the joy of the follower, the lightness of the release from sin.

Later the mezzo-soprano Marjana Lipovsek soothes the stunned audience to say that all these events have transpired in the verification of ancient prophecy—“It is fulfilled.” None of it is a surprise. The prediction has come to pass.

The bass aria “Bethink, thee, O my soul” seals the innermost connection with the listener. It envelops the listener in peaceful comfort amidst the frantic happenings. When the audience is wrapped in the emotion of the aria “Run, run, …run ye souls” and scatters wildly, suddenly the Chorus injects a whisper “ run where?” which introduces a tiny glimmer of escape from this devastation—that is, the soul has a hope beyond this grim end. During the progression of the Passion story, this glimmer is developed into the salvation that is the basis for Christianity.

The booklet accompanying this recording provides important instruction and background to enhance the hearing of this work. Written for Good Friday 1724, Bach instructs the congregation about the Passion story, evokes the emotional reactions of the individual, takes the sinner to the depths of introspection and sorrow, and informs us of the release at the end of the narrative. The listener is not a casual observer, but a soul in the crowd participating in the events and feelings of the Crucifixion.

The great master musician J.S. Bach has borne us on a musical journey to feel the Passion narrative from scripture, and to experience the emotion that is central to understanding the story. After nearly 300 years, this music is as relevant and personal as it was the day it was composed; doubtless it will continue to inspire and comfort for many centuries to come.






Famous Composers Quick Link:
Bach | Beethoven | Chopin | Dowland | Handel | Haydn | Mozart | Glazunov | Schumann | R Strauss | Vivaldi
6:36:50 PM, 21 August 2014
All Naxos Historical, Naxos Classical Archives, Naxos Jazz, Folk and Rock Legends and Naxos Nostalgia titles are not available in the United States and some titles may not be available in Australia and Singapore because these countries have copyright laws that provide or may provide for terms of protection for sound recordings that differ from the rest of the world.
Copyright © 2014 Naxos Digital Services Ltd. All rights reserved.     Terms of Use     Privacy Policy
-208-
Classical Music Home
NOTICE: This site was unavailable for several hours on Saturday, June 25th 2011 due to some unexpected but essential maintenance work. We apologize for any inconvenience.