Bach St. John Passion, BWV245
With his outstanding series of choral recordings for BIS‚ Masaaki Suzuki has rightly established a high reputation for stylish interpretations of Bach. As he explains in a brief interview which comes as a supplement on this DVD‚ he had intensive training in period performance in Holland. Certainly‚ his vigour and sensitivity in Bach defies any idea that Japanese culture has in any way been a barrier in authentically interpreting Bach.
Suzuki recorded the St John Passion for BIS back in 1998 (4/99). This video version marks a special event‚ a performance recorded on the very anniversary – July 28‚ 2000 – of Bach’s birth 250 years earlier. In essence the interpretation remains the same‚ with fresh‚ light textures and generally brisk speeds which yet allow for depth of feeling‚ and the sense of occasion is irresistible.
It is instructive‚ too‚ actually to see the physical layout of the performance. Only Gerd Türk as the Evangelist is presented as a soloist in front of the choir. His is an achingly beautiful performance‚ with his profound involvement all the more evident when seen as well as heard. Türk also sings the tenor arias‚ and the other soloists also have double roles‚ singing in the 16strong choir before stepping forward when needed as soloists: Stephen MacLeod singing Christus as well as the bass arias‚ Chiyuki Urano singing Pilate and other incidental solos‚ Robin Blaze a superb alto soloist and the ravishing Midori Suzuki in the two soprano arias. Masaaki Suzuki as director alternates between playing on one of the two harpsichords and conducting.
Including seven minutes of applause at the end is perhaps excessive‚ but on DVD one can easily tailor it to one’s needs. Firstrate sound too‚ coproduced by NHK Radio and EuroArts. The leaflet offers minimal information and no text‚ though on DVD one can plumb into subtitles‚ either the original German or the English translation‚ but not both together.