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Bach: Johannes Passion / Junghanel, Cantus Colln

Bach,J.s. / Cantus Colln / Junghanel
Release Date: 11/22/2011 
Label:  Accent   Catalog #: 24251  
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Wolf Matthias FriedrichHans Jörg MemmetMarkus Flaig
Conductor:  Konrad Junghänel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cantus Cölln
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BACH Saint John Passion Konrad Junghänel, cond; Hans Jörg Memmet ( Evangelist ); Markus Flaig ( Jesus ); Wolf Matthias Friedrich ( Peter, Pilate ); Cantus Cölln (period instruments) ACCENT ACC 24251 (2 CDs: 109:45 Text and Translation)

Some records are breakable; others are not—and I’m Read more not referring to 78s and LPs. Konrad Junghänel may have set one of the latter variety by recording the Saint John Passion with a scant ensemble of 21 musicians—including himself as conductor. Saint John has been sung by a double quartet before, under Benoît Haller for Zig-Zag Territoires ( Fanfare 34:2), but, unlike Junghänel, who has drawn all of his soloists from the eight-member ripieno, Haller employed a separate Evangelist and 19 instrumentalists. Junghänel uses the bare minimum of players: six strings, including the viola da gamba for “Es ist vollbracht,” five winds (two flutes, two oboes, bassoon), and an organ. No wonder unemployment is such a plague on both sides of the pond! The ensemble is remarkably precise; one barely notices its lack of numbers, until the final chorus and concluding chorale, where some additional choral heft is devoutly to be desired. For the 1749 version of Saint John , on which this performance is based, Bach restored most of what he had changed in his 1725 and 1732 revisions. Interestingly, there are ripieno chorus parts for this version, suggesting that Bach did not have a bare-bones ensemble in mind for the 1749 revival. I do wonder whether an ensemble this size could fill the internal space of the Thomas Church. There is also a part labeled “cembalo” (harpsichord) among the extant materials; Junghänel ignores it, but Haller did not.

Overall, this is a fine performance. In addition to Hans Jörg Memmet’s Evangelist, four of the eight singers have dramatic parts—basses Markus Flaig in the crucial role of Jesus and Wolf Matthias Friedrich doubling as Peter and Pilate, tenor Georg Poplutz as Servus, and soprano Sabine Goetz as Ancilla—and seven, including soprano Amaryllis Dieltiens and alto Elisabeth Popien, have arias. Countertenor Alexander Schneider—not that Alexander Schneider—is the odd man out. It’s safe to assume that all either have or can anticipate successful careers as soloists. One thing we know: They all have websites. Junghänel is never one to dawdle, and his direction is smartly paced, but not rushed. The story is told with feeling, but without fuss. I enjoy it, but it probably won’t wind up on the top—or the bottom—of the pile.

FANFARE: George Chien
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Works on This Recording

Saint John Passion, BWV 245 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Wolf Matthias Friedrich (Baritone), Hans Jörg Memmet (Tenor), Markus Flaig (Bass)
Conductor:  Konrad Junghänel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cantus Cölln
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; Leipzig, Germany 

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