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Previously released on CD, this DVD of the St John Passion arrives with two key cast changes: Maximilian Schmitt replacing Julian Prégardien as the Evangelist and Anke Vondung stepping into the alto role previously sung by Ulrike Malotta. Recorded live in concert in Nuremberg’s St Lorenzkirche in March 2015, it follows earlier recordings of the Christmas Oratorio and the St Matthew Passion from conductor Peter Dijkstra, and admirers of those accounts will find much to please and satisfy here as well.

Dijkstra leads Concerto Köln in another characteristically pacy account. At just under 114 minutes, it’s not as fleet-footed as some recent offerings – Jeanette Sorrell’s Avie account with Apollo’s Singers and Apollo’s Fire is leaner by six minutes – but it has merits aplenty. Free-flowing the tempi may be, but there is nothing rushed about playing that has engaging warmth, a sure grasp of both telling detail and the narrative’s larger arc, together with a dramatic sensibility as moving as it is vivid.

Schmitt’s Evangelist is a knowing, centred and sage creation, sung with a conviction underlined by emotional subtlety and ringing clarity of diction. A touch understated for some, perhaps, Tareq Nazmi’s Jesus is nonetheless a persuasive amalgam of nobility and humility. Supporting voices provide strength in depth with the Bavarian Radio Chorus, clearly on top form at the moment, providing a richly rewarding and often sublime accompaniment.

Recorded sound is excellent, Elisabeth Malzer’s unobtrusive filming makes good use of aerial shots, and the editing is wholly conducive to musical momentum and the developing sense of drama. It’s a pity there are no on-screen subtitles, and the text in the booklet is printed only in German.

The 30-minute documentary bonus is different from the longer commentary on the CD version. Entirely in German, it, too, regrettably offers neither subtitles nor translations.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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