J.S. Bach: St. John Passion / Carolyn Sampson, Iestyn Davies, Ian Bostridge, Nicholas Mulroy, Neal Davies, Roderick Williams. Polyphony

Album Summary

>Bach, Johann Sebastian : Saint John Passion, BWV 245
Performers Conductor Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

Stephen Layton leads the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and his own superb choral ensemble Polyphony in a powerful performance of Bach's most dramatic masterpiece, the St. John Passion. Joined by a starry team of soloists, Layton directs a particularly vivid account of the work, the excitement of the narrative drama contrasting with heartbreaking moments of reflection. In Ian Bostridge, we have the most iconic Evangelist of the last twenty years. Bostridge is an incomparable communicator, a singer of technical brilliance and an impassioned, experienced interpreter of Bach's music.

American Record Guide
Layton's performances inspire the soul as they break the heart with their intense beauty.

(Sung in German)

‘There’s no doubting the choir’s passion and poise, whether as a baying mob ... or in the expressively balanced unaccompanied chorale verses ... Layton’s pacing is compelling ... It’s crowned by Iestyn Davies’s sublime account of ‘Es ist vollbracht’, his pure alto wrapped around the obbligato pathos of Richard Tunnicliffe’s viola da gamba. Both Carolyn Sampson’s arias are priceless’ (BBC Music Magazine)

‘Stephen Layton, top soloists, the expert choir of Polyphony and the incomparable Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment perform the St John Passion annually at St John’s Smith Square ... Concentrate ... on the purity of sound, the emotionally expressive yet restrained performance by all and the impeccable attention to text of the soloists. Ian Bostridge lives every word of the narration but never over dramatises. Countertenor Iestyn Davies’s almost disembodied account of Es ist vollbracht! (It is finished!) is unforgettable’ (The Observer)

‘A very welcome new recording ... Stephen Layton presents an intelligently perceptive performance, beautifully sung by a fine team of soloists ... This recorded version comes finely honed, a deep familiarity with the score not causing any hint of routine but showing itself in an easy fluency as it passes from devotional strength though the depths of pathos and anguish to high drama, the immediate aftermath of the Crucifixion creating a vividly powerful climax ... Ian Bostridge brings to the role of Evangelist great authority and potent power ... profoundly impressive, with his vocal dexterity, marvellous purity of tone and astonishing sense of involvement achieved through placing great emphasis on the delivery of the text. In Neal Davies we have a Christus who exudes anguish but also considerable poise ... Layton’s reading gets closer to the heart of the passion story than most and as such, is a recording that ranks very highly indeed. The recorded sound is, as we would expect, superb’ (International Record Review)

Financial Times, 9th March 2013
The choral singing is wonderfully pure, buoyant and transparent...Ian Bostridge's Evangelist, mannered and occasionally stretched but full of "narrative" character, dominates Layton's performance.

BBC Music Magazine, April 2013
This new recording's credentials border on the unassailable...Layton's pacing is compelling - there's no mistaking the gambling fever as the soldiers cast lots for Christ's garment...[Neal Davies] reserves a melting tenderness for the utterances from the cross. It's crowned by Iestyn Davies's sublime account of 'Es ist vollbracht'...Both Carolyn Sampson's arias are priceless.

MusicWeb International, February 2013
[Bostridge is] a magnificent Evangelist though one aspect of his approach may not be to all tastes. He is highly expressive at all times and there are several occasions where some may feel he overdoes the expressiveness..Polyphony show vividly just what can be achieved in Bach singing by a fairly small professional choir, especially in terms of such things as flexibility, attack and agility...This desirable new recording deserves a place in the front rank.

The Telegraph, 22nd March 2013
This St John Passion brings to the fore the traits of style and taste that are distinguished hallmarks of Layton and the forces he gathers around him...Bostridge is the tenor Evangelist, eloquent, pure of tone, fluent and strong in communicating the import of the German narrative...The choir sings with a well-rounded sound, firm accents and with diction that brings the text crisply to life.

The Times, 15th March 2013
When Bach's goal is mellifluous comfort, as in the final chorus, Ruht wohl, Polyphony wins hands down.

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London (04/10/2012-04/13/2012).



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Works Details

>Bach, Johann Sebastian : Saint John Passion, BWV 245
  • Performers: Carolyn Sampson (Soprano); Iestyn Davies (Countertenor); Neal Davies (Bass-Baritone); Nicholas Mulroy (Tenor); Ian Bostridge (Tenor); Roderick Williams (Bass Baritone)
  • Conductor: Stephen Layton
  • Ensemble: Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
  • Notes: All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London (04/10/2012-04/13/2012)
  • Running Time: 106 min. 40 sec.
  • Period Time: Baroque
  • Written: 04/07/1724