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Bach’s St John Passion was first performed on Good Friday 1724 in Leipzig. It was a piece that delicately balanced concert (or operatic) and liturgical values, and embodied a view of Christ’s life and death that differed significantly from that in the Synoptic Gospels. A complex piece, then, whose boldness of form and questioning nature has seen it set below the St Matthew Passion in many accounts. Butt and his singers make the very strongest case for its drama of doubt, exclusion and eventual acceptance. With the principals singing other parts within their range, a sense of inwardness is created that gives the St John Passion a highly modern feel that isn’t overplayed. The reconstructed Passion Liturgy – motets and chorale harmonisations by the Glasgow University Chapel Choir – offers a fresh ritual context for a piece that would have had a sermon derived from St John’s Gospel at its heart. Though a DVD version might seem to make fuller sense of the liturgical drama, the singing is so strong and thoughtful it stands well alone as an aural experience.

BRIAN MORTON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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