Johannes-Passion BWV 245General Discussions - Part 1
Which St. JOHN
Robert M. Sherman wrote:
(To Ehud Shiloni) Ehud, what are your preferences on the St. John?
To start the ball rolling, here too Richter is my choice.
Ehud Shiloni wrote (August 26, 1998):
(To Robert M. Sherman) I do have some preferances - Richter included - but I have to rush now and I'll respond tomorrow.
Perhaps in the meantime others would chip-in with favorite ST.JOHNs??
Ehud Shiloni wrote (August 27, 1998):
< Simon Crouch wrote: I'll jump in! I like the Richter (apart from, as was said, "Evelyn Lear's soprano caterwauling"!) and also Gardiner's (for a HIP version) but the recent release from Rilling (that includes all the variants BWV 245a, b and c on an extra CD) goes to the top of the heap for me. Very powerful performance and well sung too. >
Thanks, Simon, for starting the thread, and with a very interesting recommendation indeed. Can you tell us more about the Rilling recording? I am one of the HIP-inclined, and Rilling is not very high on my general look-up agenda, but people on the list already made the comment that he seems to have picked up some good pointers from the HIP performers, so that his more recent recordings are more "in line" with what the HIP crowd expects. I notice that his ST. JOHN is from 1997 - "brand new". Please elaborate.
My own favourites:
1. Jiggy. Everything I said about St. Matthew, and more. I think that he succeeded better than all others I've heard in "telling the story", in addition to just "playing the music". I have a little "acid test" for anyone wishing to compare St .John versions: Put on no.54 - chorus piece "Lasset uns den nicht zerteilen" (casting lots for the coat). In some hands it comes out as just an excercise in choir singing, isolated from
the dramatic story. Not so with JEG and the Monteverdis. The role of the Evangelist is of lesser importance in St.John - when compared to St.Matt - because the story "rolls on" much better, with continuous interplay between evangelist, role singers and turbae, and it is easier to maintain tension. Still, my favorite is Rolf-Johnson, who
may not be as "great" a singer as Haefliger, but his delivery here is much more realistic and straightforward, and less "theatrical" than Haefliger, and therefore he sounds to me more credible and convincing. After all, this is programatic music, delivering a specific story, and the story-teller should better sound like someone who was there and is describing to you what he saw ( IMO, of course..).
2. Richter. Not HIP, but pleasantly surprising to my ears. A lot of heavy "grandeur", but it does work ( although the tempi are slower than JEG's and there is less of a sense of urgency ).
3. Parrott. I admit that I've listened only once, but the performance have Parrott's magic: Small forces delivering unbelievable penetrating emotional "sweet" moments.
4.Eric Milnes ( on PGM ): Another surprise. A live performance in an Oregon cathedral which definitely does deliver the special excitement of "live".
In summary - four recordings, and I like them all! Do I qualify now as a St. John "nut"??
Laurent Planchon wrote (August 27, 1998):
Ehud Shiloni recommends some recordings of the St John passion:
< 3. Parrott. I admit that I've listened only once, but the performance have Parrott's magic: Small forces delivering unbelievable penetrating emotional "sweet" moments. >
Like you I also have listened it once, but I am very likely not going to listen to it again. I find it rather disappointing and dull. I am not convinced by the choir size either, and I am a little bit bothered by the English accent of the Evangelist. All together, not on my list of recommendation.
< 4. Eric Milnes (on PGM ): Another surprise. A live performance in an Oregon cathedral which definitely does deliver the special excitement of "live". >
Believe it or not, I was there during the "live" performance. They played it three times (Friday evening, Saturday evening, and Sunday afternoon), but they recorded it only during the last performance which I attended. I also bought the CD, actually more as a souvenir for when I will be old. I was like you extremely pleasantly surprised and impressed by the quality of the performance. The soloists are probably more decent than excellent, the choir was a little bit oversized, and the orchestra average, but probably thanks to Milnes, the whole thing worked for me a lot. I am not sure whether you hear it in the CD, but the Evangelist (I can't remember his name) seemed completely exhausted (after 3 performances, I can understand why), and you could feel a sense of risk and danger in his recitatives, which curiously enough added to the drama of the piece. The opening choir and the effect it had on me, is something I will remember for long. Too bad I did not retrieve it with the recording.
My recommendation is without hesitation the 2nd Harnoncourt version, but since I never heard Rilling and Gardiner, I can't tell how it compares with them.
Simon Crouch wrote (August 28, 1998):
< Ehud Shiloni wrote: Thanks, Simon, for starting the thread, and with a very interesting recommendation indeed. Can you tell us more about the Rilling recording? I am one of the HIP-inclined, and Rilling is not very high on my general look-up agenda, but people on the list already made the comment that he seems to have picked up some good pointers from the HIP performers, so that his more recent recordings are more "in line" with what the HIP crowd expects. I notice that his ST. JOHN is from 1997 - "brand new". Please elaborate. >
I've said a bit more in replies to others and I've also submitted an entry to jsbach.org - but basically, I've never before been wholly satisfied by St. John passion recordings but this recent Richter version seems to me to be just about perfect (HIP vs. non-HIP notwithstanding!) Rilling rips into it with tremendous power but balances this with great sensitivity at the appropriate places. The singers are all very good. The bonus of the extra CD containing all the variant versions of the St. John, including the catalogued arias BWV 245a, b and c together with a fascinating lecture (in English) by Rilling himself is just the icing on the cake.
Who wouldn't like it? Well, if you have to have HIP then you'll resent the mixed modern/ancient instrumentation and if you like your Bach always slow and contemplative then this may be too hard driven. But to my ears, this really does seem to mix the best of all worlds.
Simon Crouch wrote (August 29, 1998):
< Robert Sherman wrote (August 27, 1998): Todd, I haven't heard Gardiner. How do you compare his "Es ist vollbracht" with Richter's?
Ha! We're both stuck - I don't have Richter! I'm sure you'll get a reply soon from the folks on the list much more knowledgeable about the St. J discography. >
I've compared Rilling and Gardiner elsewhere, so now let's look at Gardiner and Richter. Phew, where to start - apart from both using the viola da gamba is "Es ist vollbracht", they are like chalk and cheese! On Richter's recording the v-de-g introduction is played with vibrato and considerable feeling (romantic influence, perhaps?), on Gardiner's very quietly and with no vibrato but with messa-di-voce (I hope my spelling is better tonight!). For Richter, Hertha Töpper has a rich contralto voice with wide-ish vibrato and with considerable depth of feeling. Perhaps her intonation, relative to the v-de-g is not always secure and she sometimes "scoops" just a tiny bit to some notes. Still, very affecting. For Gardiner, Michael Chance's counter-tenor is beautiful but perhaps a little too ethereal (for me a common problem with counter-tenors) and thus a little uninvolving. Preference for these two? Gardiner, by a short head. But still Rilling's new version is better here in my opinion.
Jaime Jean wrote (August 30, 1998):
As I mentioned, Herreweghe's St. John's Passion is my favourite. However, there is a version I would not like to remain unmentioned: Karl Münchinger's. Although not strictly HIP, his interpretation is not so far from Karl Richter's. The aria "Zerfliesse mein Herze" sung by Elly Ameling, be considered as one of my "On a desert island" choices. The tenderness with which this aria is sung and conducted are worth the whole performance, not to mention the turba choirs, in which Münchinger stamps a dramatic tone.
Ehud Shiloni wrote (August 31, 1998):
< Laurent Planchon wrote:
(Parrott): Like you I also have listened it once, but I am very likely not going to listen to it again. I find it rather disappointing and dull. I am not convinced by the choir size either, and I am a little bit bothered by the English accent of the Evangelist. All together, not on my list of recommendation. >
Parrott was not at the top of my list, but I reiterate my overall recommendation after listening to it for the second time this past weekend. Granted, it is a matter of personal taste. I can imagine why people may find Parrott's thin forces lacking - addmittedly quite a bit of what you are used to in a "normal" performance is lost, however I find that a lot is also gained in clarity which creates surprising and interesting moments. My approach is kind of tolerant,with reduced expectations, as if preparing to hear "a transcription for chamber performance", and the result is enjoyable (for me..).
< (Milnes): Believe it or not, I was there during the "live" performance. They played it three times (Friday evening, Saturday evening, and Sunday afternoon), but they recorded it only during the last performance which I attended. I also bought the CD, actually more as a souvenir for when I will be old. I was like you extremely pleasantly surprised and impressed by the quality of the performance. >
This is truly exciting, Laurent! Next time when listening I'll imagine you in the audience! I agree that here we have a clear case when the uniqueness of a live performance is captured on the CD, background noises of all kinds not spoiling the moment. The strongest audible coughs from the audience appeared - sure enough - with the beautiful aria "Es ist vollbracht!", but I did'nt mind.
Thanks for sharing your first hand experience with us.
P.S. I previously mentioned the Chorus "Lasset uns den nicht zerteilen" as No. 54. This is the designation on the older Richter recording, but all recent recordings list this as 27b ( in case anybody had trouble looking for it...)
Ehud Shiloni wrote (September 1, 1998):
< Simon Crouch wrote: For Gardiner, Michael Chance's counter tenor is beautiful but perhaps a little too ethereal (for me a common problem with counter-tenors) and thus a little ninvolving. >
From the Webster's Dictionary:
Ethereal: Celestial, Heavenly, Unworldly, Spiritual.
This is what I feel when I hear Michael Chance, but of course this is all personal taste, because the Webster goes on to offer an alternative interpretation:
Ethereal: Lacking material substance......;)
Bach’s St. John Passion
Donald Satz wrote (April 13, 1999):
About the time that I started listening to Bach's cantatas, Mass in B Minor (BWV 232), and the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244), I bought Gardiner's account of the St. John Passion. Not liking it to the degree that I liked the other sacred choral works, I put Gardiner on the shelf and have not listened to the St. John Passion for many years.
Jonathan was recently so enthusiastic about the new Suzuki version on Bis that I decided to get back into the work by acquiring the Suzuki and rehearing the Gardiner. I'm very glad I did so. I think that the reason I was not impressed years ago was because of the abundance of choral passages in relation to arias. Well, with the passage of a few years, I now have a different view of the work where the recitatives, choruses, and arias fall into a natural pattern which I appreciate greatly.
In comparing Gardiner to Suzuki, what most strikes me is the beauty and richness of the choral passages in the Suzuki version; Gardiner does well here but I prefer Suzuki. Soloists are excellent in both versions; recorded sound favors Suzuki.
I thank Jonathan for steering me back toward the St. John Passion. I just hope that I can content myself with the two versions I have and not go out and acquire additional recordings. My list of music to buy is overflowing, and I need to scale it down. When you owe the Feds a big chunk of money by 15 April, a new air conditioning system is needed, and your car needs a new clutch, there isn't much left over for discretionary purchases. I sure do hate income taxation - it's so inefficient and invasive.
John Smyth wrote (April 13, 1999):
< Discussing and earlier tepid response to Bach's St. John's, Donald Satz writes: I think that the reason I was not impressed years ago was because of >the abundance of choral passages in relation to arias. Well, with the passage of a few years, I now have a different view of the work where the recitatives, choruses, and arias fall into a natural pattern which I appreciate greatly. >
This is as good a time as any to share my recent discover of an absolutely beautiful Handel Aria towards the end of his "Dixit Dominus" entitled: "De torrente in via bibet" sung by Arleen Augér and Lynne Dawson. (Archiv 423594)
Those of you that are hardcore Baroque fans are probably thinking, "this is news?" but for those that tend towards later periods, I can safely say its beauty surpasses any particular time or style. I bought the CD specifically for the "Dixit" opening--my college choir sung this and I thought it was a really cool piece--and never listened on.
My choir director made some of us tenors sing alto so that we would sound more HIP. (Maybe that's what's wrong with me....)
Source for Harnoncourt St. John Passion?
Jennifer White wrote (May 31, 2000):
I have been searching for years for a certain recording of Bach's St. John Passion conducted by Harnoncourt.
It was on Teldec 2292-42492-2 as a CD.
It featured: Kurt Equiluz, Max Van Egmond, J. Villisech, soloists of the Vienna Boys Choir, Concentus Musicus Wien, conducted by Harnoncourt.
Does anyone on this maillist know of where I might find a used copy in good condition?
First Johannes Passion performance (Thomaskirche/Nikolaikirche?)
JgyA (jegar) wrote (August 25, 2000):
Recently I was involved in a discussion of wheter the first performance of John's Passion took actually place on Thomaskirche in 1723 or in Nikolaikirche in 1724.
Apparently sholars have divided opinions on the matter.
For instance Malcom Boyd in his famous Oxford "Composer Companions" defends
the Nikolaikirche premiere version.
Others as in the "Men of Music: Their Lives, Times, and Achievements" by Wallace Brockway and Herbert Weinstock suggest the first approch.
Any light on the subject will be appreciated.
Sybrand Bakker wrote (August 29, 2000):
(To JgyA) The Thomaskirche in 1723 would have been very strange, as Bach at that time was not employed by Leipzig. According to the minutes of the council of April 3, 1724 a passion performance was planned for the Thomaskirche (and libretto already printed), while the council wanted the passion to alternate between the Thomas and the Nicolaikirche. Bach managed to negotiate some instrument repairs, and the first performance of the SJP took place in 1724 in the Nicolaikirche. I'm unaware of any evidence for a 1723 performance by Bach.
JgyA (jegar) wrote:
(To Sybrand Bakker) Thank you for your response. Yes. Actually that is what Malcolm Boyd says in his book J.S. Bach Oxford Composer Companions, and what I found in many other sources I checked. But the problem is that there are some other sources, some of then even available in the web, which state a 1723 performance prior to Bach establishing himself at Leipzig. Here are some of them:
http://www.januszewski.com/music/bach/bio1.html (N/A - March 2001, A.O.)
That is what originally opened the discussion of which of the two is the correct date and site: (Thomaskirin 1723 or Nicolaikirche in 1724) that at least two recognized scholars (Boyd and Weinstock) have different opinions in the matter...
What I need to know is if there is a way to know for sure which of the two is correct, or if this is a classic especulative discussion that will be difficult to probe.
Sybrand Bakker wrote (August 29, 2000):
(To JgyA) AFAIK there is no archival evidence for a performance of the SJP in 1723. Your first source states Bach performed 'a' passion in 1723, not stating which. Also, the eldest performance material has been dated at 1724 (and the old Bachausgabe, which you seem to cite may well be wrong in this) According to Duerr, Zur chronologie der Leipziger Vokalwerke J.S. Bachs, the wassermark of St. 111 is IMK, which means these are the oldest extant parts. Die so-called 'mittlere stimmen' are written by a different scribe, who started to work later for Bach. He notes with respect to 1723: It is possible, though there is no evidence in the manuscripts. More detailed information is available in the Critical Report II/4, which I don't have.
St. John Passion?
Emily (Dot) wrote (January 21, 2001):
I'm looking for a copy of the Robert Shaw Chorale & RCA Victor Orchestra recording of Bach's St. John Passion. Is it even in print? Does anyone have a copy or know where I can get ahold of one? Any comments would be appreciated. Thanks
St John Passion – reconstruction of 1st version
Johan van Veen wrote (March 20, 2001):
Since March 13th the Capella Figuralis - the soloists' ensemble of the Netherlands Bach Society - is giving performances of a reconstruction of the very first version of Bach's St John Passion. There are four versions of this work, which make it impossible to define what the "definitive" version is. We only know all the material of the versions of 1725 and 1749. In 1728 or 1732 Bach was working at a new version - the third - in which he removed some parts, but it isn't known what he used as replacement. The first version of 1724 is basically the same as that of 1749, although Bach made a number of changes. Those were ignored in the performance by the Capella Figuralis.
There are a number of differences in comparison with the versions which are usually performed and recorded. Some of the recitatives and arias are more simple. The main difference is the instrumentation. The reconstruction was made by the musicologist Pieter Dirksen, who has outlined the main characteristics of this version and the reasons behind it.
In this reconstruction there are no flutes. Dirksen believes that Bach originally didn't intend to use flutes and that they were only added at the last moment. In his first year as Kantor in Leipzig Bach didn't have flute players at his disposal and the cantatas from this period don't have them as well. They are dominated by the sound of the oboes, and when the SJP is performed without flutes, the oboes get a more prominent role, which is in line with Bach's cantatas from the early years in Leipzig.
Besides, the flutes don't play such an important role in the SJP in comparison with the SMP: they mainly play 'colla parte' with the oboes (opening chorus) or the violins (some of the 'turbae') or the choral tenor an octave higher. The arias in which the flutes are involved are both written in keys which make them difficult to play on the baroque flute. Bach usually composed his flute parts in D or G major, in contrast to 'Ich folge dir' (in B flat major) and 'Zerfliesse mein Herze' (in f minor).
Dirksen believes the first of the two is a "violin aria": Bach would hardly compose a major vocal work without an aria with violin solo. The character of the instrumental solo part (p.e. the articulation) is very "violinistic". The upper instrumental part of "Zerfliesse, mein Herze' was meant to be played by the oboe. The key is much better
playable on oboe than on the flute, and the range of the part is much more limited than necessary for the flute.
As far as the performance is concerned, it was a very small ensemble which sung and played this version: 8 singers (SATB), divided in two groups (right and left), with the Evangelist in the centre. Behind him the continuo instruments: cello, viola da gamba, double bass, lute, harpsichord and organ. On the right: 2 oboes, on the left: 2 violins (two of them also played the viole d'amore) and viola. In some choral movements only one of the groups was singing. For example in the opening chorus: Both sang the A section, the first lines of the B section (Zeig uns durch deine Passion - Auch in der grössten Niedrigkeit) were sung by one of the groups, then the last line of the B section (Verherrlicht worden bist) and the da capo of the A section were performed by both "choirs".
A performance of this kind has to have a special effect, quite different from the usual performances. But in the performance I attended this effect was a little undermined by the fact that the venue (the large auditorium of Muziekcentrum Vredenburg in Utrecht) was too large for an ensemble of this size. What is needed is not too large a church with a very good acoustics. I am sure that under such circumstances a small ensemble can have the same dramatic effect as a larger one.
Some singers were reasonably satisfying, for instance the Evangelist Achim Kleinlein and the singer of the part of Jesus, Arnout Lems. The tenor Robert Morvai has a very nice voice, but was a little short in expression in the solos in Part 2. The aria 'Es ist vollbracht' was very moving. Funny how everyone is talking about the famous altos of this world, like Andreas Scholl, and lesser famous singers are easily overlooked. The performance of this aria by Peter de Groot was as good - or even better - as any I have heard from his more illustrious colleagues. The sopranos Maria Rosenmöller and Irmela Brünger were both very good as well.
So, is this version convincing? In my opinion: definitely yes. I am totally convinced about the instrumentation without flutes. The solo part in 'Ich folge dir gleichfalls' does sound very idiomatic on the violin. The scoring of 'Zerfliesse, mein Herze' with oboe and oboe da caccia made a very strong impression as well. In my view this version can stand alongside the better known later versions.
For those who can receive Dutch radio: the performance in the Waalse Kerk in Amsterdam will be broadcast on April 12. Next year a commercial recording of this version will be released.
Jane Newble wrote (March 20, 2001):
< Johan van Veen wrote: For those who can receive Dutch radio: the performance in the Waalse Kerk in Amsterdam will be broadcast on April 12. Next year a commercial recording of this version will be released. >
On which one? Please tell me it is radio 1 or 5. I can get those...but come to think of it, it would hardly be on 1...
Johan van Veen wrote (Mrch 20, 2001):
(To Jane Newble) Radio 4, of course ... Sorry!
Sybrand Bakker wrote (March 20, 2001):
(To Jane Newble) Most likely Radio 4 (not on AM), maybe on Internet. Regrettably I had to decide to miss the only performance I could attend to, this evening in the Waalse Kerk. If I would have gone, I would have been away three long evenings in succession (Yesterday I returned from a church meeting at 23:30 and that's not funny, as the meeting started at 19:30 and stopped at 22:50) and I live in Amsterdam and I will be unable to listen to the broadcast because it's Maundy Thursday and I am on duty in my church. Help! On a similar note: and opinions on the Parrot almost OVPP recording of the SJP on Virgin?
Johan van Veen wrote (March 20, 2001):
(To Sybrand Bakker) Well, of course I will tape the performance and burn it on CD. So if anyone is interested, mail me privately and I will make a copy.
Jane Newble wrote (March 20, 2001):
(To Sybrand Bakker) That must be even more frustrating than living in England!!!!
Philip Peters wrote (March 21, 2001):
(To Jane Newble) It will be Radio 4....
Philip (if I remember to tape it I´ll gladly duplicate that tape for you)
Information about Johannes-Passion
Marcus Kresin wrote (April 3, 2001):
Does anybody have some informatiabout the Johannespassion? E.g.: - theological analysis - background information. Where can I get this information?
Sybrand Bakker wrote (April 3, 2001):
(To Marcus Kresin) As you are German I must recommend you to buy Johannes Passion Johann Sebastian Bach Schriftenreihe des Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart, vol 5 Published by (who else) Baerenreiter. It contains in-depth information about the topics you mentioned by amongst other Lothar and Renate Steiger, Alfred Dürr and Christoph Wolff. I bought it a few months ago at www.amazon.de
Josef K. wrote (April 3, 2001):
(To Marcus Kresin) Books, books, lots of books...
1725 SJP Question
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (May 5, 2001):
In that site there is a discussion of Peter Neumann's recording (the only recording at that time at least) of the 1725 integral SJP.
Since I only recently have heard the arias as an appendix and on the Brilliant Classics set (no notes), I am wondering whether there are notes somewhere as to what arias and chorales the appendix ones substitute for.
For a while I expect NOT to acquire anything new (the bank was broken with the Leonhardt-Harnoncourt Cantatas).
Marten Breuer wrote (May 3, 2001):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Here's the answer to your question:
- 'O Mensch, bewein' substitutes No. 1 ('Herr, unser Herrscher')
- 'Himmel reisse' is additionally inserted after No. 11 ('Wer hat dich so geschlagen')
- 'Zerschmettert mich' substitutes No. 13 (Ach, mein Sinn')
- 'Ach windet euch' substitutes No. 19 ('Betrachte, meine Seel')
- and finally the Chorale 'Christe, du Lamm Gottes' substitutes No. 40 (Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein').
Although I can understand that the Leonhardt-Harnoncourt cantatas cost a lot of money, please keep in mind that also Nos. 2-10 of the Neumann recording in details differ from the 'ordinary' SJP as they don't follow the revised 1739 score but the original 1725 one. I'm not quite sure but maybe, in this respect the recording is like Suzuki's recording of the 1749 version.
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (May 5, 2001):
[To Marten Breuer] Thank you very much, Marten,
I now have printed this. Yes, of course, I and most everyone want to hear the integral 1725 performance and this information is but stop gap. But not all desires can be fulfilled in a few weeks. So I will have to wait. One must really at cerain times curb CD acquisition.
Ludwig wrote (May 14, 2001):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] My bank was also broken almost by the Leonhardt-Harnoncourt " Das Kantatenwerke". However, I bought mine piece by piece and just about the time I had a little over half of the collection purchased---they (Time Warner who bought the company about this time)seemed to withdraw the sale of of this collection and then reissued them in poly-cd set per jewel case and making duplications of the 2ZL cases.
I have the 2ZL set which had some jewel case single cds and would like to purchase other volumes from any people who are the legal owners of the rest of the set. I am interested only in those jewel cases with CD’s with NO Scratch marks on them.(Some people just do not seem to take good care for their recordings as as soon scratch the CD’s by putting them down on rough surfaces as not to. In minor cases; this poses no playing problems but the deeper the scratch the more likelyhood that the computer chip will be unable to read the bitsda--da..da...da..click..click.)
St. John Passion
William D. Kasimer wrote (June 28, 2001):
< That said, can anyone recommend a great performance of the St. John Passion? >
For HIP, the Slowik recording on Smithsonian, assuming that it's still available. Very strong solo work, and the set also includes all of the music from the 1725 version.
Non-HIP - probably Rilling's most recent recording (which also offers the 1725 addenda), although I'd be hard-pressed to give up the Forster recording (with Wunderlich as Evangelist). And I've always been partial to Decca's first English version (conducted by Willcocks, I think), despite the over-resonant acoustic, for its splendid group of soloists (especially David Ward and Helen Watts).
Can anyone recommend a version with Kurt Equiluz as Evangelist?
Harry J. Steinman wrote (June 28, 2001):
What do folks thing of the Richter recording? I have the Richter volume that includes the SJP, the SMP, the Xmas O, etc. and rarely get past the Matthew Passion...I enjoy it so that I rarely listen beyond it!
Bob Sherman wrote (June 28, 2001):
[To Harry J. Steinman] For me, these are the definitive recordings -- except for the Xmas, which I find a tad disappointing in spots although Wunderlich is -- well -- wonderful.
Bradley Lehman wrote (June 28, 2001):
[To William D. Kasimer] I have four CD sets of the SJP so far, and I enjoy all of them for different reasons.
- Classic set by Scherchen and the Vienna State Opera Orch on MCA Classics Double Decker 9804
- The pathbreaking original instruments set by Harnoncourt, CMW, and the Vienna Boys' Choir, c1971 - Bill, there's your recommendation for Kurt Equiluz as evangelist - Teldec 8.35018
- Cleobury conducting King's College Choir Cambridge and the Brandenburg Consort (Goodman), including the 1725 version's movements in an appendix - this one's on Columns Classics 290241 (deluxe issue) or Musica di Angeli 99185 (budget issue, no booklet)
- Jeannette Sorrell and Apollo's Fire (Cleveland) sung in English, Eclectra 2044 (Canada) co-sponsored by NPR - there's one to grab attention, HIP in English, and lively!
I'm planning to add the Slowik or Kuijken sets to those someday.
On LP I have the same Harnoncourt set plus the ancient Vox Box 202 of Ferdinand Grossmann conducting the Vienna Symphony....
All around I listen to Harnoncourt and Cleobury most often.
Laurent Planchon wrote (June 28, 2001):
< Bradley Lehman wrote: - The pathbreaking original instruments set by Harnoncourt, CMW, and the Vienna Boys' Choir, c1971 - Bill, there's your recommendation for Kurt Equiluz as evangelist - Teldec 8.35018 >
I my memory is accurate, Harnoncourt was originally not credited the leadership on this one, but Gillesberger was ("Gesamtleitung" or similar). I guess we have the same situation as with the Jürgens' Vespers.
Harnoncourt II (1995) on the other hand is entirely his own, and apart from Anthony Ralf-Johnson's German, everything is admirable.
As far as Equiluz is concerned (and I understand why you would want him), I guess you indeed have to go for Harnoncourt I / Gillesberger, but I somehow doubt that it is still available.
Peter Bright wrote (June 29, 2001):
[To Harry J. Steinman] I find Richter's Mass in B minor to be incredibly moving and one of his greatest achievements - his skills as a choirmaster are legendary so I would expect his SJP, given its drama, should be immensely rewarding to all but HIP purists. In fact, you've made made me question why I don't have his SJP already! I'm off down the shops... I'll report back tomorrow if I manage to root it out.
Bob Sherman wrote (June 29, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] I think you will find Richter's SJP to be even more definitive than his b minor. Haefliger and Prey are magnificent as Evangelist and Christus. Richter's conception is magnificent. Hertha Töpper's "Es ist vollbracht" is by far the most moving performance of that aria I've ever heard, and violist Oswalt Uhl supports her perfectly. The only weakness is soprano Evelyn Lear, but there are plenty of good sopranos on other recordings you can dub in.
Thomas Boyce wrote (June 29, 2001):
[To Bob Sherman] I had the good fortune of hearing Prey at one of his last performances at the "Mostly Mozart" festival. He sang a Mahlerized Schubert song and blew everyone away. Stunning, amazing.
Michael Grover wrote (July 1, 2001):
[To Laurent Planchon] Interesting. I have not heard this SJP, but I own Gardiner's SMP with Anthony Rolfe Johnson as Evangelist, and never found any problem with his German. In fact, I find it refreshingly clear and easy to understand. I also heard him in Solti's SMP and again, problems that I can recall. What was wrong with his German in the SJP? Bad pronunciation, or what?
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (July 1, 2001):
[To Laurent Planchon] I assume that there is reason why this was known ab initio as the Gillesberger Johannes Passion.
And, as for it's being unavailable, that is a prime example of the stupidity and idiocy of an over-bloated industry.
Such landmark recorded documents should never disappear from availabilty.
Laurent Planchon wrote (July 5, 2001):
[To Michael Grover] Well, I would have to relisten to it carefully to really answer with fairness, but as far as I recall, it did not sound genuine to me (as compared to an Equiluz or a Prégardien for instance). I don't think that there was anything wrong with his pronunciation specifically, but you can tell that he is not German, and somehow it bothers me a little bit, especially as the Evangelist (a little bit like a Paul Agnew or a Howard Crook in Rameau). But I concede that this is a very tiny minor complaint compared to the immense talent of these people (what would we do without Howard Crook, Paul Agnew or John Mark Ainsley in Rameau ?).
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (July 1, 2001):
[To Laurent Planchon] But why have a non-German native (a native speaking oreigner, there are such, is good too) as the Evangelist? That seems a bad choice and Anthony R J is not the most touching and appealing of voices to me. John Mark Ainsley makes a wonderful Jephtha in Handel's oratorio, but that is in English. And my Rameau days are ahead of me. But my Charpentier days have always been with me.
Melanie Eskenazi wrote (July 6, 2001):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] 'm coming to this discussion rather late so may not be quite on the right track, but if we are talking about Bach Passions Evangelists, the Evangelist of our time is definitely John Mark Ainsley, as far as I am concerned! I have heard him "live" in both Passions many times, as well as on disc, and singers such as Schade and Pregardien do not come anywhere near him, either in sheer beauty of sound, quality of interpretation, characterization, diction....... and he is not a native German speaker! Michael White,reviewing an SJP performance in London in April 1999, said "The undoubted star was John Mark Ainsley, an Evangelist in whom you could find no fault. It was perfection; finely phrased and coloured, beautiful in tone, immaculate in diction; probably the most distinguished singing you could possibly hear in such a role." I was at that performance, and can attest to everything White says, but it would take me about five paragraphs to say what he conveys in two sentences.
I would question why one should have a native speaker anyway - I can understand anyone not liking ARJ since he is "English" in the extreme, but Ainsley's German is well nigh flawless. Examples? They abound - but when I am seeking short extracts for lectures etc, I use just the one line from the "John:" "Und Jesus wusste alles, was ihm begegnen sollte....." with its aching sense of sorrow on "alles" and its slight, melancholy pressure on "begegnen," and from the "Matthew," the recitative (no. 11) beginning "Da sie aber assen......" with its beautifully taken high note on "dankete," and also no 38c, perhaps best of all, with his superbly onomatopoeic "krähete" and poignant "weinete bitterlich."
I was brought up in a household where French and German were both spoken every day - I barely uttered an English word until I was 13, so I guess you could say I might know what I'm talking about - I certainly do in terms of singing. Come to think of it, I recall being very much moved by Peter Pears' singing of the part - now there's an "English" voice if you ever heard one!
You should certainly hear Ainsley's Dardanus - even my Angevin uncle (we Angers natives are the worst of French language snobs!) deigned to refer to his singing of the part as "Vrai Francais."
Bob Sherman wrote (July 7, 2001):
[To Melanie Eskenazi] Haven't heard Ainsley but you have me intrigued. How would you compare his SJP to Haefliger's with Richter? I mean musically, not musicolgicially.
Melanie Eskenazi wrote (July 8, 2001):
[To Bob Sherman] You must hear Ainsley! Especially in the Matthew, although the rest of the singers on that recording (with the notable exception of Thomas Quasthoff's Christus) are no better than serviceable.
As for comparison with Haefliger, the two are very similar singers; I would say that Haefliger has the more inherently dramatic, more succulent voice, but he does not quite possess the "tone-on-the-words" quality that Ainsley has, and he pulls the lines about more than I like. Ainsley's voice is very slightly astringent where Haefliger's is softer in timbre; Ainsley shapes the music very lyrically where Haefliger is more robust. Both men tell the story, wringing our hearts without wringing their hands.
(Necessarily brief, as I'm in the middle of examination marking & haven't time to get out any recordings fordetailed comparisons!)
Continue on Part 2