Monday, April 02, 2012

St. John Passion

I got up in the middle of the night to listen to Bach's Johannespassion from Carnegie Hall, streaming on WGBH (due to insomnia, not necessity).  The performance was by Les Violons du Roy, La Chapelle de Quebec, soloists, and conducted by Bernard Labadie.

I included the above chorale from a performance from Munich in 1964 because it shows the traditional style for performing Bach chorales maintained at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig over the centuries.  In this style the fermatas which appear in the score are observed, and the tempo is slow.  At Carnegie Hall you hear the modern idea that "Oh no, these fermatas are just for show.  Nobody does them.  We should get the whole thing over as quickly as possible."  For me it's a prayer and should be allowed to soak in slowly.

My favorite part of the John Passion has always been the final chorale, included above in a performance from 1934, also in the old style.  For me the fast modern approach trivializes these wonderful works.

The broadcast fills in the pauses with talking which you can avoid by clicking on the red line at different spots.

In the John Passion the aria interruptions are less frequent and less glorious then in the St. Matthew.  The words of the gospel are sung by the evangelist, Ian Bostridge tenor here, Jesus, Neal Davies bass-baritone, and the chorus.  None of the vocal soloists had the traditional sound usually heard in the Bach passions, but they made up for it in enthusiasm and emotional fervor.  The small chorus was outstanding.

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