La Petite Bande, Sigiswald Kuijken – J.S. Bach: St. John Passion, BWV 245 (2012) [nativeDSDmusic DSF DSD64/2.82MHz]

Johann Sebastian Bach – St. John Passion, BWV 245 – La Petite Bande, Sigiswald Kuijken (2012)
DSF Stereo DSD64, 1 bit/2,82 MHz | Time – 01:51:35 minutes | 4,15 GB | Genre: Classical
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download – Source: nativeDSDmusic | Booklet, Front Cover | © Challenge Records / Northstar Recordings
Recorded: 17-20 April 2011, Academiezaal, St. Truiden, Belgium

Let’s start with a simple question : which version have you recorded? Hmm, this is actually a rather complex question. During Bach’s lifetime there were four different performances, each time with new modifications, some in response to the circumstances at the time, others influenced by which musicians and instruments he then had at his disposal. However Bach experimented to the greatest degree with the second version, dating from 1725: for instance, he used a different opening chorus (which was later to become the closing chorus of the first part of the St Matthew Passion, a work yet to be composed at this stage) and a couple of other arias near the end of the work. For the later performances he reverted to his first version from 1724, albeit with some differences in instrumentation. For instance, in the final version he includes a bassono grosso, but no one knows for certain which instrument he had in mind; possibly a 16-foot bassoon, i.e. a contrabassoon, a veritable chimney pot two metres in length. However, he scored this instrument in combination with the delicate sound of the lute and two violas d’amore, of all things! I cannot believe that Bach would opt for such an instrument in this passage; an 8-foot bassoon is more likely and the term bassono grosso probably indicates this more modern type of instrument rather than the earlier dulcian, although the latter had not totally fallen out of fashion at the time. However, I would not venture a definite opinion as to what bassono grosso means in this context. So we did not use this instrument: this was yet another reason to stick with the first version, since it raises fewer uncertain issues. Nevertheless, there are still various grey areas involved. Even prior to the first performance, before making the individual orchestral parts, Bach began to write out the score in fine calligraphy, a task he did not complete; and this score deviates in some aspects from the orchestral material used in the actual performance. The process of determining the most probable historical truth continues to have elements reminiscent of a detective novel; anyway, it will never be possible to clarify certain details. At any rate, we opted for the first version that everyone performs.

Sigiswald Kuijken’s recording of the St. John Passion isn’t quite one-to-a-part. As he explains in the booklet, it’s not possible to sing the work with just four singers. However, it’s as close as we’re likely to get. This very intimately-scaled performance uses four soloists, four ripieni singers and an instrumental band of just thirteen players, including Kuijken himself. I know that there are many who dislike the one-to-a-part approach to Bach’s choral music and to a large extent I’m with them; I prefer to hear Bach done by a small choir, say around the size of the Monteverdi Choir. However, I’d urge people who normally think in this way not to dismiss this recording out of hand for it’s a fine performance with much to commend it.

For a start the soloists are good. Christoph Genz, the best-known of them, is a highly experienced Bach singer. Collectors will be familiar with, amongst others, his recordings with Gardiner of the Christmas Oratorio (review) and in several instalments of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage. He’s a fine Evangelist, relating the story in a compelling way. He may not have quite the intensity of Mark Padmore on Gardiner’s recent recording (review) but I still found his narration very involving, vivid and full of expression. He also does the tenor arias well, especially ’Erwäge’.

The other soloists were new to me. All do well. Jens Hamann makes a good impression as Jesus and in the bass arias. I was intrigued to read in her biography that soprano Gerlinda Sämann is blind. Goodness only knows how she has managed to carve out a professional career, including opera, with such a handicap and one admires her for doing so. I only discovered this information after completing my listening process and had already formed the impression that she is a fine singer. She brings a delightful eagerness to ‘Ich folge dich gleichfalls’ while ‘Zerflieβe, mein Herze’ is full of delicate poignancy. Petra Noskalová is very effective in ‘Es ist vollbracht’ though earlier, in ‘Von den Stricken’ either she doesn’t project strongly enough or the oboes are too loud.

Though the choral movements are sung by only a small group of singers I didn’t find this a problem. Indeed, in Part II the crowd scenes have bite and ample venom, if not quite the visceral excitement that the Monteverdi Choir brings to this music. What one loses in terms of choral weight of tone one gains in respect of clarity. This is one of the most transparent, clear performances of the St John that I can recall hearing – a statement that applies to the instrumental playing also. The clarity, the small scale and the excellence of the recorded sound means that the listener is really drawn into the drama. This very intimacy means there is no hiding place but none is needed. Not only is the singing – both solo and choral – at a consistently high standard but also the instrumental playing is very fine. As previously mentioned, I felt the oboes were a touch too prominent in ‘Von den Stricken’ but that’s the only criticism – and it’s a minor one – which I have on this front. The obbligato playing is expert throughout; particular praise is due to the flautist in ‘Ich folge dich gleichfalls’ and to Kuijken himself, the gamba player in ‘Es ist vollbracht’.

As director of the performance I don’t think that Kuijken puts a foot wrong; he seems to pace everything unerringly and his long experience of performing Bach pays dividends as the Passion drama unfolds.

I’ve listened several times to this account of the St. John Passion and I’ve enjoyed it every time. More importantly, I’ve found it a rewarding experience and I hope that other listeners who hear it will feel the same way.–John Quinn “musicweb-international”

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
St. John Passion, BWV 245
First Part
[1] 1. Chorus: Herr, unser Herrscher 9:31
[2] 2a. Recitative: Jesus ging mit seinen Jüngern 2:07
2b. Chorus: Jesum von Nazareth
2c. Recitative: Jesus spricht zu ihnen
[3] 3. Chorale: O große Lieb 0:41
[4] 4. Recitative: Auf dass das Wort erfüllet würde 1:02
[5] 5. Chorale: Dein Will gescheh 0:47
[6] 6. Recitative: Die Schar aber und der Oberhauptmann 0:41
[7] 7. Aria: Von den Stricken meiner Sünden 5:05
[8] 8. Recitative: Simon Petrus aber folgete Jesu 0:12
[9] 9. Aria: Ich folge dir gleichfalls 3:23
[10] 10. Recitative: Derselbige Jünger 2:45
[11] 11. Chorale: Wer hat dich so geschlagen 1:27
[12] 12a. Recitative: Und Hannas sandte ihn 2:03
12b. Chorus: Bist du nicht seiner Jünger einer?
12c. Recitative: Er leugnete aber und sprach
[13] 13. Aria: Ach, mein Sinn 2:34
[14] 14. Chorale: Petrus, der nicht denkt zurück 1:01
Second Part
[15] 15. Chorale: Christus, der uns selig macht 1:01
[16] 16a. Recitative: Da führeten sie Jesum von Kaipha vor das Richthaus 3:46
16b. Chorus: Wäre dieser nicht ein Übeltäter
[17] 17. Chorale: Ach, großer König 1:20
[18] 18a. Recitative: Da sprach Pilatus zu ihm 1:46
18b. Chorus: Nicht diesen, sondern Barrabam!
18c. Recitative: Barrabas aber war ein Mörder!
[19] 19. Arioso: Betrachte, meine Seel 2:20
[20] 20. Aria: Erwäge, wie sein blutgefärbter Rücken 7:31
[21] 21a. Recitative: Und die Kriegsknechte flochten 5:22
21b. Chorus: Sei gegrüßet, lieber Judenkönig
21c. Recitative: Und gaben ihm
[22] 22. Chorale: Durch dein Gefängnis 0:45
[23] 23a. Recitative: Die Jüden aber schrieen und sprachen 3:55
23b. Chorus: Lässest du diesen los
23c. Recitative: Da Pilatus das Wort hörete
[24] 24. Chorus & Aria: Eilt, ihr angefochtnen Seelen 3:57
[25] 25a. Recitative: Allda kreuzigten sie ihn 1:53
25b. Chorus: Schreibe nicht: der Jüden König
25c. Recitative: Pilatus antwortet
[26] 26. Chorale: In meines Herzens Grunde 0:55
[27] 27a. Recitative: Die Kriegsknechte aber 3:23
27b. Chorus: Lasset uns den nicht zerteilen
27c. Recitative: Auf dass erfüllet würde
[28] 28. Chorale: Er nahm alles wohl in acht 1:00
[29] 29. Recitative: Und von Stund an 1:13
[30] 30. Aria: Es ist vollbracht 5:10
[31] 31. Recitative: Und neigte das Haupt 0:22
[32] 32. Chorus & Aria: Mein teurer Heiland 4:17
[33] 33. Recitative: Und siehe da 0:28
[34] 34. Aria: Mein Herz, in dem die ganze Welt 0:45
[35] 35. Aria: Zerfließe, mein Herze 6:46
[36] 36. Recitative: Die Jüden aber 1:57
[37] 37. Chorale: O hilf, Christe, Gottes Sohn 1:00
[38] 38. Recitative: Darnach bat Pilatum 1:49
[39] 39. Chorus: Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine 7:19
[40] 40. Chorale: Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein 1:43

Gerlinde Sämann, soprano
Petra Noskaiová, alto
Christoph Genz (Evangelist) tenor
Jens Hamann (Jesus) bass
Marie Kuijken, soprano
Patrizia Hardt, alto
Knut Schoch, tenor
Walter Testolin, bass

Sigiswald Kuijken – violin, gamba, viola d’amore
Sara Kuijken – violin, viola d’amore
Makoto Akatsu violin
Ann Cnop – violin
Marleen Thiers – viola
Marian Minnen – basse de violin
Ronan Kernoa – basse de violin
Sien Huybrechts – flute
Yifen Chen – flute
Patrick Beaugiraud – oboe
Vinciane Baudhuin – oboe
Benjamin Alard – organ
Nicolas Achten – lute