J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Hermann Scherchen conducts St. John Passion

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Hermann Scherchen
Accompaniment/Orchestra:Vienna Academy Chorus / Vienna State Opera Orchestra
Soloists:John van Kesteren (tenor - Evangelist), Otto Wiener (bass - Jesus), Robert Springer (baritone - Peter), David Smith (baritone - Pilate), Franz Lukasowsky (tenor - Servant), Elizabeth Thomann (soprano - Maid)
Arias: Phyllis Curtin (soprano), Eunice Alberts (contralto), Waldemar Kmentt (tenor), Frederic Guthrie (bass)
Individual Works:St. John Passion BWV 245
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Enterprise
Catalog Number:LV 925/26
Year Released/Recorded:1961/62
Total Playing Time:139:00
Comments:Henning Böke said:

The astonishing recording of the St. John Passion conducted by Hermann Scherchen in Vienna 1961/62 gives us an idea what a "third way" of understanding Bach beyond romanticism and historicism can be.

As Scherchen was very much engaged in contemporary music, his approach was non-romantic--although he kept some nineteenth-century traditions like singing the final choral a cappella--but based on clarifying musical structures. The Evangelist's recitatives are performed in a broad, epic manner, contrasted by the stupendous velocity of the turba choruses, which gives this performance an unsurpassed dramatic tension. The arias are sung and played with a clarity of phrasing that compensates for the technical quality which is rather poor for a sixties recording.

A special benefit are the two tenor soloists: John van Kesteren who sings a fine-lined Evangelist with an ideal equilibrium of clear pronunciation and melodic evenness; on the other hand Waldemar Kmentt's darker voice gives us the proof that Bach's arias can be wonderfully performed also by rather dramatic singers, whatever some criticians and singers of our time who consider only slim and vibratoless voices as "authentic" may maintain. Never before I heard the phrase "der allerschönste Regenbogen" in the "Erwõge" aria with such an overwhelming warm expression, never again such a noble anxiety and sadness lay on the arioso "Mein Herz, indem die ganze Welt" and the following soprano aria "Zerfließe, mein Herze", and the long chorus "Ruhet wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine" is filled by a restless tension by which the conductor, a left-wing atheist, may have intended to say that Christ's death could not be the last word of human history.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • Henning Böke
Date First Submitted:04/06/2000