J.S. Bach's Johannes-Passion, or St. John Passion, BWV 245 – one of just two surviving Bach Passion works out of an original four or five – is, simply put, a headache for editors and performers wishing to recreate the authentic, stamped-and-approved original work. There is no such beast: the work was performed at least four times during Bach's lifetime, and for each new presentation he overhauled the music, adding numbers, deleting numbers, changing numbers, so that today we really have four different St. John Passions through which to pick and choose our way. Happily enough, however, Bach misses the mark in not a single one of those numbers, and the director can hardly go wrong selecting from such a wealth of fine material. The St. John Passion was first heard on April 7, 1724 (Good Friday), and then reproduced for Leipzig churchgoers in 1725, sometime in the early 1730s (perhaps 1732), and then again in 1749. Perhaps in part because of its sometimes bewildering compositional history and the fact that its texts were not really conceived as a single entity (Bach seems to have arranged the texts himself from a number of disparate sources, and sometimes his efforts – which seem to have been hasty ones – are not altogether graceful), the St. John Passion has never been a sweepingly popular work like the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244. But it is a monumental work that must have made quite an impression indeed at its first performance, early on in Bach's tenure as Cantor of Leipzig.
Since 1727, JS Bach's "Great Passion" has gripped the hearts and uplifted the minds of audiences all over the globe. Nearly three centuries after its premiere, the work has lost none of its power to evoke feelings of compassion for all those who suffer. Its mix of urgent story-telling, meditative arias and mighty choruses sets St Matthew's account of Christ's betrayal, trial and execution eloquently and emotionally.
The music of Bach's 'St. John Passion', which the composer wrote for Holy Week in 1724 immediately after his appointment as cantor of St Thomas's Church in Leipzig, still retains all its freshness and vitality nearly 300 years later, and is a true Baroque delight. The two main choruses Herr, unser Herrscher and Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine form the beginning and culmination of a large-scale orchestral and vocal structure in which Bach reveals his absolute mastery of polyphony. Inwardly reflective chorales are as much interwoven into the events of the Passion as the haunting arias which comment on the biblical texts of the Gospel of St John. Throughout this solemn Passion oratorio, there is a constant emphasis on Baroque musical magnificence. What makes this live recording of the concert version of March 7, 2015 in the Herkulessaal of the Munich Residenz so special? The fresh voices of the young and excellent vocal soloists, the regularly praised "astonishing three-dimensionality" and "crystalline clarity" of the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks under the direction of Peter Dijkstra and, of course, the renowned period instrument ensemble Concerto Köln.
As one of the 20th century's most acclaimed Bach interpreters, Karl Richter devotes his expertise to this monumental epic of Christ's final hours, tapping the power of Bach's rich choral writing for a rendering of startling immediacy - for the first time on DVD.
When it came to writing Passions, C. P. E. Bach was certainly far more prolific than his father, whose St. Matthew Passion is by far and away the model against which all others are currently measured. He wrote 21 of these, or rather, he wrote bits and pieces of each one, the rest of which was cobbled together from works by his contemporaries and even his father.
Perhaps more than any other composer, Bach’s music has the power to affect our lives. The masterpieces featured here include secular and sacred works for ensembles, soloists and choirs and express emotions from joy to sadness and peace. Artists include John Eliot Gardiner, Hélène Grimaud, David Oistrakh and many more.