The Bethlehem (PA) Choral Union gave the first complete American performance of J.S. Bach's Saint John Passion in 1888. That group was the immediate predecessor of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, which sings in this 2011 performance of the 1724 version of the passion led by Greg Funfgeld, who has led the group since 1983.
The highlights of the performance include the singing of some of the soloists. Tenor Charles Daniels is an impassioned, dramatic Evangelist and he sings with resonance and clarity. Also impressive are soprano Julia Doyle and baritone David Newman as Pilate. Benjamin Butterfield makes it through the tenor arias, but not without sounding strained. The choir sings with a full, rounded tone.
TheRead more performance philosophy favors a large choral sound; listeners' reaction to its size will probably be determined by whether they prefer the more traditional big Bach sound, or the leaner, more intimate sound favored by performers more influenced by the early music movement. The same might be said for the orchestral sound. The orchestra is not especially large, but its use of modern wind instruments makes for a blander, less colorful sound than that of groups that use period instruments. The continuo is relatively monochromatic and inimaginative, considering the latitude given performers in its realization. Funfgeld provides strong leadership but doesn't generate the kind of excitement and momentum that characterize the most exciting performances. Analekta's sound is clean, clear, with good resonance and balance.
Saint John Passion, BWV 245by Johann Sebastian Bach Performer:
Julia Doyle (Soprano),
William Sharp (Baritone),
David Newman (Baritone),
Daniel Taylor (Countertenor),
Benjamin Butterfield (Tenor),
Christopheren Nomura (Bass Baritone)
Bach Choir of Bethlehem,
Bach Festival Orchestra
Period: Baroque Written: 1724; Leipzig, Germany