This splendid recording of Bach's St. John Passion, BWV 245, by the Cleveland, Ohio, group Apollo's Fire and its director, Jeannette Sorrell, was recorded live at a Cleveland church and was derived from live performances given in New York according to a concept Sorrell devised. Although Apollo's Fire is oriented toward historical performance, there's no evidence that anybody in Bach's time ever performed the work this way. Yet, against the odds, it works well live, according to reports, and certainly on this recording. Essentially, the New York performances involved a semi-staged version of the work, with the soloists interacting physically according to the drama (and singing without musical scores), and the choir dispersed through the audience. The latter doesn't seem to have happened in this Cleveland performance, although the soloists look from the pictures (and sound) like they sang to each other rather than to the audience. Even if the realization was a bit less unusual, this is still unlike any other performance of the work you've ever heard. The drama is as apparent in the choruses as in the solos, and really, the strength of the performance is that the chorus is integrated into the work here in a unique way. The soloists are very strong vocally and enter entirely into the spirit of the performance. You could sample the scene with Pilate's interrogation for an impression of the thorough realization of this figure by baritone Jeffrey Strauss. You may find that your favorite moments in the score seem to be given short shrift here, but this masterwork is simply being looked at through a wholly new lens. A genuinely fresh Bach recording, and an excellent choice for those interested in this consistently innovative mid-American ensemble.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Track Listing - Disc 1
|St. John Passion, BWV 245|
Erster Teil: Scene 1: No. 2a. Jesus ging mit seinen Jüngern über den Bach Kidron, No. 2b. Chorus: Jesum von Nazareth!, No. 2c. Jesus sprach zu ihnen, No. 2d: Chorus: Jesum von Nazareth!, No. 2e. Jesus antwortete
Erster Teil: Scene 2: No. 12a. Und Hannas sandte ihn gebunden zu dem Hohenpriester, No. 12b. Chorus: Bist du nicht seiner Jünger einer?, No. 12c. Er leugnete aber und sprach