Classical CD of the week: Bach St John Passion

Daily Telegraph, by GN, 23 April 2011

5 stars

Today is Holy Saturday and Bach's St John Passion is traditionally associated with yesterday's observance of Good Friday, but this magisterial and profoundly moving performance emphasises that its spiritual impact is timeless.

One wonders if it ever entered Bach's mind, as he diligently produced his cantatas for every Sunday of the ecclesiastical calendar and conceived the Passions according to St John and St Matthew, that they would still be sung almost three centuries later.

The Monteverdi Choir and John Eliot Gardiner have been at the forefront of Bach performances for the past few decades, most notably in 2000 when they performed all the cantatas on the days for which they were appointed.

However, Bach's sacred music is not necessarily circumscribed by dates, and this interpretation of the St John Passion was broadcast live from the Kaiserdom in Königslutter on March 22 2003, which that year was a month before Easter.

The St John Passion was first heard in Leipzig in the 1720s, and its dramatic intensity and diversity are qualities that Gardiner and his forces convey superbly. The role of the Evangelist is eloquently inflected by the tenor Mark Padmore, and the choir blends reverence with animation in the chorales, the crowd scenes and the two magnificent choruses.

Together with the English Baroque Soloists, Gardiner here has an ensemble that shared his inspired vision of a masterpiece.