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Dip Your Ears, No. 165 (Butt Passion Redux)

available at Amazon
J.S.Bach, St. John Passion
+ Passion Liturgy
John Butt / Dunedin Consort
N.Mulroy, M.Brook, J.Lunn, C.Wilkinson

Historically Most Informed

After a most invigorating Matthew Passion in 2008 (See Best Recordings of 2008 - "Almost List"), and a less convincing Mass in B-minor, the historically most informed John Butt presents us now with the St. John Passion, and it’s his best of the lot! No other recording of the St. John Passion is as palpably historically informed, nor equally manages to point out so vividly the inherent futility of “historically informed” efforts. (Futility, not pointlessness, or dispensability!) Butt sets the Passion into its liturgical context of 18th century Leipzig Good Friday service (authentic 1720 Lutheran sermon included as a free download, replete with subtle Saxonian accent in the German!). That includes organ chorale preludes for intro and outro, congretational chorales at the relevant points, a concluding motet, responsory, collect, blessing, and the chorale that responds to the blessing. So far for unparalleled authenticity.

But equally we become aware of the inherent impossibility of a meaningful authenticity, because clearly the way we hear, feel, perceive, and understand music is to a considerably greater degree dependent on where we listen (in a cold church, not our home), and how, and when (on one specific, stipulated day, as part of a greater community), and what kind of awareness of the world we have, what a working day looks like for us, and where the house stands we live in, than on the type of string the violinists use, or how they phrase their bowing. Once we accept that, we can go back to enjoying Butt’s lively and fresh take, which has grown on me with every hearing.

Standing in for what would have been Leipziger townsfolk as the chorale-singing masses are the University of Glasgow Chapel Choir singers. Butt of course leads his Dunedin Consort in an infectious, tight performance that is (unlike the Mass in B-minor and to some extend the Matthew Passion) not marred by singers; Nicholas Mulroy is steadfast and Clare Wilkinson in particular is—thankfully—in top form.

Butt performs an ‘ideal version—an amalgamate of the 1724 and 1749 version that Butt calls “a reconstruction of the 1739 performance, one that never actually took place.” It’ll be one of the St. John Passions I’ll most likely grab off the bulging shelf, when in the mood!

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