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Penguin Guide, January 2009

The Naxos CD version of the St John Passion, with the choir of New College, Oxford, at budget price, offers an outstanding period performance which can stand comparison with any in the catalogue. Only male voices are used, with the soprano arias sung by a boy treble. The choir itself is fresh and bright, singing incisively, with the crowd choruses vividly adding to the drama, helped by the natural balance. Higginbottom’s speeds on the fast side follow period practice, except in relatively broad chorales. James Gilchrist is a superb Evangelist, fluent and expressive, and the main quartet of soloists makes a sensitive team, including the confidently firm-toned treble, Joe Littlewood, and the veteran counter-tenor, James Bowman, still in fine voice. The wind instruments of the Collegium Novum have a sharp edge, which brings out the agony implied in the accompaniment to the opening chorus, while the darkness of instrumentation in the great alto aria, Es ist vollbracht, adds to the poignancy of Bowman’s singing.

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