Editor's Choice: A Passion for Bach

Classic FM, by Rick Jones, 1 April 2011


5/5 stars

The music: Written for Easter 1724 in Leipzig, the St John is both Bach’s earliest surviving passion and his most substantial work to date. Its impact was almost certainly controversial, not least for its text, which is the most mystical of the gospels.

The performance: Gardiner sets the waves gently but urgently lapping in a perfectly judged opening. The build-up to the chorus’s imploring “Herr!” is as explosive as Handel’s Zadok the Priest. Mark Padmore’s Evangelist is commanding, tireless and beautifully enunciated. Soprano Joanne Lunn is delicious in “Ich folge dir” with its flute obbligato as light as spring water. Alto Bernarda Fink sings “Es ist vollbracht” with rich low tone against the weeping viola d’amore. The chorus is precision itself and the orchestra ebbs and flows with Gardiner’s eloquent wand.

The verdict: Surely there cannot be a better account on record. From first to last Gardiner imparts his love for the work and it comes across. The performers share his views and so do we. The liveness of the recording is palpable.

Why you’ll love this:

Saint Mark: Padmore’s wailing line of shifting semitones on the words “weinete bitterlich” (“wept bitterly”) is a crowning moment. You feel Peter’s desperate agony personally. Padmore has no rival as Evangelist.

Top sop: Joanne Lunn sings the aria “Ich folge dir” (“I’ll follow you”) with delicious lightness. The effervescent obbligato flute perfectly depicts her fluttering heart. She’s sparing with vibrato and her climbing “befoerdre” (“urge”) phrase wants to burst for joy.

Love strings: The weeping d’amore arrives as Christ’s torment is approaching its climax and saves its most passionate outpouring for “Es ist vollbracht” (“It is finished”) with alto Bernarda Fink delivering tomb-like low notes.