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  40:1 (09-10 /2016)
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BR Klassik 900909

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Reviewer: George Chien


If you were to anthropomorphize Bach’s Passions they’d be brothers. St. John, the elder brother, would be a legitimate Hall-of-Famer. St. Matthew, the kid sibling, would be one of the handful of all-time greats. They’d probably share a brotherly bond, but Matthew would look down serenely from his seat in Elysium while John constantly strives to prove that he belongs. Some onlookers might argue that John is the more deserving, but theirs would always be a minority opinion. In real life, Bach left a magnificent, meticulously penned manuscript of the St. Matthew Passion; the St. John Passion was never definitively finished. In all likelihood, Bach never performed the same version twice, and almost certainly never heard what has become the standard performing edition. We assume that St. Matthew was Bach’s favorite, but is it possible that St. John, on which he labored for a quarter century, was closer to his heart?

St. John is the more dramatic of the Passions, and Peter Dykstra leads a gripping, almost operatic performance, from the stark opening chorus, fraught with pain, to the triumphant closing chorale. Julian Prégardien is an ardent—one might say passionate—Evangelist. Tareq Nazmi is a tower of strength as Jesus. The moderately sized chorus, especially in portraying the crowds, is a powerful contributor to the drama. The solo quartet is no less effective. This is not a performance for the faint of heart. One can only speculate that Bach would have approved. It’s regrettable that the libretto is printed in German only.

The bonus disc is an illustrated lecture, unfortunately also in German only, and therefore useless to monolingual listeners like me. One gets the impression that it may be of interest to anyone who can comprehend it. It’s a pity. But it doesn’t detract from the appeal of Dykstra’s accomplishment, and that’s the good news.


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