The Friday afternoon (April 22, 2011) performance of Bach’s St. John Passion by the Boston Symphony Orchestra was something of a disappointment. With the singers the orchestra had contracted, most of the arias were boring and unpleasant, things to be gotten through, not moving or satisfying in any way.
Masaaki Suzuki, who is supposed to be an expert at this sort of thing, was the conductor. The orchestra was greatly reduced in size. About sixty members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus made up the chorus. Their singing was excellent and their enunciation very clear.
Christoph Prégardien was the Evangelist. His singing also provided one of the excellent aspects of the performance, although he was said to be recovering from a cold. After the Thursday night performance, a decision was made to bring in William Hite to sing two tenor arias instead of Prégardien. Hite’s singing of the arias was not quite the pleasure that I would have expected, since his voice has lost the attractive freshness that it had when I heard him in the past in live performances and in Emmanuel Music’s recording of the St. John Passion. He does sing with a certain intelligence, but that is not quite enough to make up for the lack of freshness.
Hanno Müller-Brachmann was the bass who sang the part of Jesus and also the bass arias. I found his singing to be adequate, but not much more, certainly not very interesting. At times his facial expressions seemed self-conscious and inappropriate.
Hanna Blazikovà and Ingeborg Danz were the two female soloists. Neither had an attractive sound, neither was very interesting, though Danz was slightly moving at moments in her second aria. At times Blazikovà sounded more like a boy than an adult woman. Maybe that is supposed to pass as historically informed performance, but I find the idea dubious. Danz was not always quite loud enough, sort of a 40-watt light bulb where one would have wanted 100 watts but might have been happy to settle for 60.
Less prestigious organizations with much smaller budgets have put on much more successful performances of this work.
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