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St John Passion at the Barbican

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  • A Cappella News
    THE TIMES: Whenever you re in the presence of the vocal ensemble Polyphony and their conductor Stephen Layton you begin to understand what authenticity is
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 25, 2008
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      THE TIMES:

      Whenever you're in the presence of the vocal ensemble Polyphony and
      their conductor Stephen Layton you begin to understand what
      authenticity is really about. And it has little to do with period
      performance. Their St John Passion certainly was historically informed
      - and they sang with the period instruments of the Academy of Ancient
      Music. But the authenticity here went deeper, to the core of Bach's
      responses to the Easter story, and to the beating heart of his musical
      language.

      From the first cries of Herr, unser Herrscher!, the Almighty was
      summoned with impassioned urgency to show how triumph will rise even
      out of betrayal and humiliation. Layton knows just how to point and
      reinforce the inner voices of his choir - the strong tenors and altos
      - to close-focus the anguish and the joy. And every single chorale -
      those temporary resting places of communal and heartfelt response to
      the drama - distilled its emotions of grief and wonder with huge
      integrity.

      The polyphony of Polyphony itself, and the gripping articulation of
      this choir, is so compelling that the soloists never appear in
      overelevated relief - even when they include Ian Bostridge and Carolyn
      Sampson. Bostridge is an intense yet humbly contemplative Evangelist.
      His pacing of each recitative is now honed to perfection, and the
      balance of objective and subjective tale-telling revelatory. As this
      Passion was part of his own Homeward Bound festival, it was natural
      that he should sing the tenor arias, too - though on occasion this
      seemed to overtax his vocal energies.

      Sampson's soprano arias were delectable, and delectably accompanied.
      The supple and always sensitive baritone of Roderick Williams was at
      the centre of the action as Pilate. His own drama-within-a-drama could
      have been a little more powerfully projected; the Christus of the bass
      James Rutherford just a little less so. Michael Chance, as the
      counter-tenor soloist, was exquisitely accompanied by Reiko Ichise's
      viol da gamba, just before the full minute's silence respected so
      eloquently by Stephen Layton at the point of Christ's death.
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