Culture Magazine

Ich Folge Dir Gleichfalls: Johannespassion at Carnegie Hall

By Singingscholar @singingscholar
I find Bach's Johannespassion irresistible under all circumstances; as well performed as it was by Les Violons du Roy, La Chapelle de Quebec, and an extraordinary group of soloists, I found it transporting. Bernard Labadie led the combined forces with energized precision, drawing out performances which were both subtle and--giving the word its full weight--passionate. Having a chamber orchestra allowed the textures of Bach's writing to emerge with exquisite clarity. Tempi were relatively fleet, but not to the detriment of emotional intensity and nuance. This comes close to gushing, I realize, Gentle Readers... but it's Bach, and it was brilliantly done. I was astonished that (especially on a raw and rainy Sunday afternoon in Lent) it wasn't better sold, but many of those who were there were standing during the final applause. Here Bernard Labadie talks about the rhetoric of Bach's "musical sermons":

The experience of the vocal and instrumental ensembles in working together under Labadie, and the enthusiasm all parties involved seemed to share in doing so, contributed to a strong sense of the piece's overall shape, unifying the richly detailed movements. The opening of "Herr, unser Herrscher" was given more dynamic ebb and flow than sometimes, and it gave me chills. The musical form and textual richness of the choral work were both beautifully displayed. The soloists in this admirably integrated performance contributed similarly thoughtful work. Hanno Müller-Brachmann brought a dark bass-baritone of impressive sonority (and, in "Mein teurer Heiland," impressive agility) to the roles of Petrus/Pilatus. Nicholas Phan was a luxury as the tenor soloist, with exquisite sweetness in "Erwäge, wie sein blutgefärbter Rücken." Countertenor Damien Guillon showed sensitive phrasing throughout; I found his voice slightly light for "Von den Stricken meiner Sünden," but his elegant, silvery tone was an interesting fit for the intensity of "Es ist vollbracht." The power of Karina Gauvin's voice live was a stunning discovery. She was equally impressive in "Ich folge dir gleichfalls" and the anguished "Zerfließe, mein Herze," combining purity of tone with impressive richness and power.  Another welcome discovery was the warm, expressive bass-baritone of Neal Davies, who brought beauty of tone and depth of feeling to the part of Jesus. The role of the Evangelist is often sung with declamatory solemnity, partaking in a tradition of remote gravity deemed suitable for sacred text. Ian Bostridge, on the other hand, sang it with an edgy, anguished immediacy. The narrative of the Johannespassion is, after all, one of frequently shocking brutality, and it was this on which Bostridge focused, with fearless use of dynamic effect, and the vivid word-painting at which he excels. A hushed account of the chorale "Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein" brought a powerfully involving performance to a moving close.

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