Johann Sebastian Bach: St John Passion (1749 version, with additional movements from 1725 version)

review bach passion x1 cong

As the sleeve notes put it, this and the St Matthew Passion are “without a doubt” two of the most important works Bach composed. Say the notes: “No further reason needs to be given for the fact that they are considered among the most distinguished compositions of Western music since they were rediscovered in the 19th century”. So that rules out any criticism of the work, really.

The music established a new tradition for Good Friday vespers in Leipzig, with Bach retaining a spirit of church worship while creating a narrative that depicts trial, death, and ascension.

This programme uses the final 1749 version, using Bach’s original concept and incorporating additional movements of the 1725 version.

The recording was made in the Christuskirche, the Protestant main church in Mainz, the state capital of Rhineland-Palatinate, the home of the Bach Choir Mainz and Bach Orchestra Mainz.

If you’re familiar with this work, you know it’s not going to be done badly; we played another version we had lying about, and this seems a little faster and tighter; we couldn’t really compare track times because of the extra sections.

For anyone else, it’s a very approachable piece of music. As the sleeve notes say, it’s both music to worship to, and music to enjoy as an operatic performance. The singing is gentle and sits comfortably in the music, for those of you who do not like opera.

Still: one of the western world’s major artistic endeavours and released just in time for the event for which it was composed.

Out now on Naxos, 8.573817-18.

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