Johannes-Passion BWV 245
Conducted by Philip Pickett
Not recorded yet.
Two Bach concerts in Israel
Uri Golomb wrote (June 12, 2005):
Last week, Bach lovers in Israel had the opportunity to hear two concerts featuring internationally-renowned Bach specialists. The Israel Festival invited Philip Pickett and his New London Consort to perform the St. John Passion in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem; and the Israel Camerata Jerusalem -- one of Israel's top two chamber orchestras -- invited Angela Hewitt to perform two piano concerti -- by Bach (the F minor) and by Schumann. I had the pleasure of attending both concerts.
Pickett's SJP really divided opinions. Some listeners -- including at least one music critic -- were enthusiastic; others (including at least one member of this list) were appalled. I found myself somewhere in the middle.
Pickett's forces were almost paired to the bone. There were 9 singers -- a two-per-part chorus, in which the singers of Jesus and Pilate took part, and an Evangelist. The orchestra was also one-per-part; the continuo group consisted of cello, viola da-gamba, bassoon and organ (no violon or any other double-bass equivalent). This instrumental ensemble is probably smaller than what Bach himself used, at least in some of his performances. On other occasions, this didn't bother me: when the Purcell Quartet did a comletely one-per-part series of the Lutheran Masses, for example, the soloistic instrumental ensemble sounded just fine. But this was probably becasue they did it at Wigmore Hall, a small space designed for chamber music. Pickett brought his SJP, on the other hand, to Tel-Aviv's opera house. Even here, I had no reservations about the use of a small chorus; but the instrumental ensemble sounded too light and insusbstnatial to my ears, sitting a back row.
This was not, however, my main reservations. RAther, I felt that, in this case, the whole was *lesser* than the sum of its parts. Some of the soloists were very good if a little bland (the Evangelist Andrew King, the JEsus, Simon Grant); others were superb (for example, the bass Mark Rowlinson, who sang Peter, Pilate and the bass arias; the soprano Mhairi Lawson, who gave a heart-rending performance of "Zerfliesse mein Herze"). The players were also of very high quality -- I especially remember Petr Wagner's spellbinding reading of the viola da-gamba obbligato in "Est ist vollbracht". The choruses were always clean, sharp and very clear, and there were many eloquent phrases.
Nonetheless, I felt that an overall vision was lacking. Pickett opened the work with an almost absurdly fast opening chorus; almost all of the many figures and gestures in teh music were lost, even though every note was clearly audible. It was light, flippant and breathless. None of the other movements was quite so annoying; yet there many cases of wooden phrasing, a seeming lack of thought. When eloquent phrases did emerge, they seemed to come sporadically from inidividual players and singers.
On the whole, then, I was disappointed. I've heard the SJP performed with similarly-sized forces (same number of singers, a slightly larger orchestra) in 1998, when Paul McCreesh conducted his Gabrieli Consort & Players at hte Barbican Hall. There, too, I felt that the hall was too large for such forces; but the performance on the whole was much more cohesive (there did seem to be an overall vision, a sense that the musicians were co-ordinated), and also much more thoughtful and moving.
Hewitt's concert wasn't an all-Bach concert. The program opened with one of Mendelssohn's charming string symphonies (written when the composer was in his mid-teens); the orchestra was conducted by its music director, Avner Biron. Then Hewitt performed Bach's F minor concerto -- playing and conducting. A few wrong notes notiwthstanding, it was an excellent performance. She didn't visually conduct, except for giving tempo cues at the beginning and end of each movement. But the orchestra was nonehteless very responsive, and there was a clear and lively dialogue between them (I should note that the ISrael Camearata, who play modern instruments, has for years cultivated a very convincing Baroque style, thanks to Biron and to a host of distinguished guest conductors, including Hermann Max, Paul McCreesh and Joshua Rifkin). This concert coincided with the recent release of her complete Bach concerti cycle (which includes, in addition to the standard seven keyboard concerti, the 5th !
Brandenburg and the "Triple" concerto); judging by this concert, this set is well worth acquiring.
It is not surprising, of course, to hear Hewitt give an excellent performance of Bach: after all, she is now regarded as *the* present-day exponent of Bach on the piano. I was more curious to see what she'd make of the Schumann concerto (where she only played, Biron resuming his role as conductor). On the whole, this too was an excellent performance -- almost as good as the Bach. There were a few moments of over-indulgence (to my taste; I'm sure others didn't feel that way!), but on the whole it was a performance of great clarity and expressive depth.
Tomorrow, Hewitt will give a solo recital: Bach (Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, the French Overture from Clavierubung II), RAvel (Sonatina) and Liszt (Sonata). I'm not very fond of Liszt, but I'll probably go anyway -- and will send another brief report if I do.
Johannes-Passion BWV 245: Details
Recordings: Until 1960 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | Sung in English | Individual Movements
General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Systematic Discussions: Part 1: Mvts. 1-7 | Part 2: Mvts. 6-14 | Part 3: Mvts. 15-20 | Part 4: Mvts. 21-26 | Part 5: Mvts. 27-32 | Part 6: Mvts. 36-40 | Part 7: Summary
Individual Recordings: BWV 245 - Brüggen | BWV 245 - Cleobury | BWV 245 - Dombrecht | BWV 245 - Fasolis | BWV 245 - Gardiner | BWV 245 - Harnoncourt-Gillesberger | BWV 245 - Herreweghe | BWV 245 - Higginbottom | BWV 245 - Jochum | BWV 245 - Leusink | BWV 245 - Max | BWV 245 - McCreesh | BWV 245 - Neumann | BWV 245 - Parrott | BWV 245 - Pickett | BWV 245 - Richter | BWV 245 - Schreier | BWV 245 - Shaw | BWV 245 - Suzuki | BWV 245 - Veldhoven
Articles: Saint John Passion, BWV 245 [by Teri Noel Towe] | The Passion of Saint John, BWV 245 [by Michael Steinberg] | St. John Passion [by Audrey Wong & Norm Proctor] | The St. John Passion on stage [by Uri Golomb]
Philip Pickett: Short Biography | New London Consort | Recordings | BWV 245 - Pickett