Great version full of life
Andrew Short | Canberra Australia | 09/16/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I second everything said about this by the reviews above! This is a warm recording sung very well, it'sd a real treat this one. Pitty Britten didn't do the St Matthew Passion. This is a super buy"
Britten's *St. John*: A Flawed Masterpiece
Johannes Climacus | Beverly, Massachusetts | 10/30/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I usually resist Bach sacred music in English; the Passions, in particular, can sound uncomfortably like Monty Python's "Life of Brian" when rendered in oh-so-(in)correct BBC English. Moreover, Bach was alert to the distinctive timbres and rhythms of his native tongue (and in particular of Luther's Bible translation), and for this reason it is just as important to hear his Passions in the original German as it is to hear Janacek's operas in their original Czech.
On the other hand, a really good vernacular rendition by a musically sensitive translator can go a great distance toward capturing the distinctive inflections of the original text in the new language--and that is what Peter Pears and Imogen Holst have accomplished for Britten's famous rendition of Bach's *St John Passion.* Of course, even the most idiomatic of translations will remain ineffective in an earthbound performance--but that is certainly not the case here; for Britten was one of those multitalented composers who was also a gifted conductor. Indeed, few conductors--traditionally-minded or given to period manners--have penetrated so deeply into the core of Bach's terrifying but exultant vision of Christ crucified than Britten. Britten clearly grasps St. John's unique interpretation of the passion as simultaneously a humiliation and an exaltation: "When I am lifted up I shall draw all persons to myself."
Everyone--soloists, choir and EC0--respond with rapture to Britten's direction. Pears once again proves that he was one of the great exponents of the role of Evangelist. Howell portrays Jesus with authority, dignity and grace. The other soloists give of their best in the arias--particularly Hodgson. Two blemishes keep this memorable recording from being an unqualified masterpiece: the all-male choir, when in full spate, sing with glorious tone but mushy diction; and the engineers have given us a sonic perspective that is often hazy and sometimes distorted at higher dynamic levels.
But whatever the flaws, this English-language St. John must be counted as one of the great Bach recordings of all time. Buy it and cherish it."
Wonderful for the soloists and conducting
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 12/25/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Bach's Passions haven't made their way in English translations for the same reason that Messiah hasn't made its way in German: the text is inextricably tied to the original language. But if that sense of rightness isn't important to you, I agree with the other reviewers that Britten's Englished Bach is deeply felt and absorbing. Peter Pears couldn't be bettered as a dramatic Evangelist (although by 1971 his voice couldn't be called fresh).
The other soloists are also fine, but I'm not totally convinced by the large chorus that uses boys instead of women. Thier piping timbre isn't easy to get used to (unless you already love it -- I don't). But the bigger problem is that you can't hear the words very well, due to the backward placement of the chorus. If you're going to English the St. John Passion, shouldn't prime attention be paid to intelligibility?"