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J. Brian Watkins | San Dimas, CA United States | 10/02/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Having erased several false starts at a review, let me just say that this DVD represents something far more profound than a first-rate performance of Bach's St. John Passion. Watching it, I can't help but ponder the fact that a group of dedicated Japanese artists have so successfully devoted themselves to performance of (to their culture) an utterly foreign work close to 300 years old. Such is the power of Bach and his message.
From the initial bars of the opening chorus--this version incorporating the more familiar "Herr, Unser Herrscher" chorus deleted in a later revision--one immediately realizes that the voices are clear and powerful, the musicians as close to flawless as one could wish, and Suzuki's interpretation does nothing to distract from the power of the original text. I particularly appreciated the confident tempo--perhaps because I first encountered John Gardiner's performance I have come to appreciate what I now understand to be a somewhat faster tempo.
Whenever I pick up a new version of the St. John, I first listen to the opening chorus and then I turn to "Mein teurer Heiland" as I have found that any flaw in the performance is usually magnified in this aria. Here the organ and cello are perfectly balanced, the soloist is excellent (they are all excllent) and is capably supported by the choir. The balance is exceptional--whether or not a debt is owed to the quality of the recording technicians--this is clearly a group that knows how to work together.
Finally, this DVD is a must purchase because of the respect done by the videographer to the work itself; videographically, this work is the finest such recording I have encountered. There are no distracting cutaways, the soloists and director are appropriately highlighted without annoying closeups or other "artistic" flourishes that have crept into other such works. Not only does DVD format allow for additional audio channels, the visual dimension of the performance is becoming increasingly relevant. To my wife's dismay, I have now realized that the time has come to start repurchasing my favorite works."
As of May 2006 the Best DVD of the St. John Passion
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 05/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This performance, filmed in Tokyo's Suntory Hall in 2000, has previously been available (also from Euroarts, but with different packaging) and is still for sale here at Amazon. However, this Euroarts release is slightly cheaper than the earlier issue. I have not seen/heard the other issue and cannot compare them, but it is clear from the identifying information that this is indeed the same performance, so any differences between that one and this DVD would have to take into account such things as picture and sound quality. And I certainly have no complaint about those aspects of this release. The sound, in PCM Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1, is clear as a bell. The filming is simple and is closely geared to Bach's score -- no dizzying intercutting or changing viewpoint just for the sake of doing so.
The Collegium Musicum Japan led by Masaaki Suzuki have in recent years become a known quantity. The orchestra uses appropriate instruments, including viola da gamba and oboe d'amore, and plays in a light HIP style. Suzuki does not indulge in the too-fast tempi of some HIP conductors but he does keeps things moving. The choir, sixteen strong and including all the soloists except for the Evangelist (Gerd Tuerk), sing in a light almost delicate style that I find refreshing; this is particularly helpful in the highly contrapuntal choruses. They are suitably dramatic in the turbae. Neither orchestra nor choir indulge in objectionable mannerisms. The flutists, the oboe d'amore and the viola da gamba players are particularly outstanding. Masaaki accompanies the recitatives at the harpsichord, but there is a second harpsichordist playing continuo and there is also a very able portative organ player. Tenor Tuerk makes a dramatically effective Evangelist. Bass Stephan MacLeod is a somewhat underpowered Jesus. Soprano Midori Suzuki has a limpid, pleasing soprano. Countertenor Robin Blaze is both musical and more than tolerable (as some countertenors are not) and his 'Es is vollbracht' is moving.
The only current competition for this DVD is the old-fashioned Karl Richter version with Helen Donath and Peter Schreier. It is visually and aurally not up to par and can only be recommended with hesitation.
This is currently the St. John Passion DVD to own. There will undoubtedly be others that come along, but I don't know that I'll look any further than this one.
A Passion for Bach....
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 11/26/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
".... is clearly world-wide, and still spreading. I reckon if we ever make contact with intelligent beings from another solar system, Bach will be our best evidence that we are an evolved species with emotional intelligence.
Suntory Hall in Tokyo is a great venue, a fully supportive acoustic for both the musicians' and the audience's ears, but I'm surprised to see that "amazon'" credits the Hall as the "starring" performer. It is grand, by the way, to catch a few glimpses of the audience at this 2000 performance and to see mostly younger people - few grey heads - than you would see at an American or European venue. The Bach Collegium Japan gets a lot of credit for building such enthusiasm.
This performance of the St. John Passion is not perfect. There are moments of shaky tuning from the choir, though not many. The violins play cleanly but without great expressiveness. The viola da gamba, in its one moment of obbligato glory, limps along at best. Basso Stephan MacLeod sings accurately but without much power or poignancy. On the other hand, the chorus is excellent in its rhythmic ensemble and articulation; the balance is such that one can hear the alto and tenor lines even in the homophonic chorales. The oboes, oboe da caccia, bassoon, and humongous contra-bassoon are all technically strong and expressively vigorous. Alto Robin Blaze lives up to his reputation. The star, of course, is the Evangelist, sung masterfully by tenor Gerd Türk. All the great Baroque Passions can be made or broken by the Evangelist; this performance exposes how dominant that voice is - and needs to be - in the St. John Passion. The stage set-up, with Türk standing in front beside conductor Maasaki Suzuki, ampliflies that dominance almost to the point of rendering the other soloists superfluous.
Yes, there are musically more perfect performances of the St. John Passion on CD, but watching a solid performance like this, with all the camera-work focused on the musicians and none of it on distracting iconography, is a rewarding experience. The sound reproduction quality on this DVD is better, to my ears, than on many of the available CDs, and lots of people these days have better speaker systems attached to their gigantic plasma screens than to their "stereo" systems. Everything about this performance is chaste, simple, and brisk, as befits a concert rather than a liturgical celebration."
Teemacs | Switzerland | 11/18/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Bach Passions are somewhat of an acquired taste, with their long recitatives (the most important part is The Evangelist, who tells the story of the Passion). They contain magnificent music, but for full enjoyment, one really needs to know and appreciate the Passion story itself, as the two surviving Passions are perhaps the ultimate expression of Bach's deeply-felt Lutheranism.
This is an unusual recording in that the performers are nearly all Japanese, Maasaki Suzuki and his Bach Collegium Japan, performing in Suntory Hall, Tokyo as part of the 250th anniversary of Bach's death, this performance having actually taken place on the anniversary itself (28 July 2000). Make no mistake, this is an outstanding group, performing and singing with committment and (if you'll pardon the expression) passion. The part of the Evangelist is excellently sung by German specialist Gerd Türk, and the other soloists are equally good. In many ways, Suzuki reminds me of John Eliot Gardiner, from the batonless conducting to the impassioned singing along with his choir. Clearly this is a man who doesn't do routine music making. The whole event is nicely captured on DVD.
Highly recommended for all Bach lovers."
A Feast for Ear, the Eye, the Soul
Richard Bruce Wood | 01/12/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although lesser known than the St Matthew Passion, this work has a warmth and intimacy that is missing in the larger work. The performance offered here shows this work in its finest form, with a small (16 voice) chorus that was typical of performances of Bach's time. While performance was technically the flawless: perfectly in tune and incredibly precise rhythmically, it offered so much more - capturing all the emotion and drama of Christ crucifixion. The evangelist's performance was wonderful. His voice and face portrayed the emotion of the text even to those who do not speak German. The soprano soloist's voice was as crystal clear as a bell and is a joy to hear. The performance of the orchestra and chorus was equal to that of these soloists. This is the best purchase I have ever made."