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Energy and power

The Bach Collegium Japan performance of the St John Passion, experienced by KEITH BRAMICH


EuroArts    DV-BAJPN

Johannespassion - Bach at the Suntory Hall in Tokyo. © 2000 EuroArts

'Show us by Thy passion that thou, the true son of God, at all times, even in times of deepest lowliness, have been exalted!'

J S Bach would almost certainly have been astounded and intrigued to know that, 250 years after his death, a respected group of Japanese musicians would travel to his homeland to give concerts in his honour, and then, even stranger, that they would return to Asia and make a worldwide TV broadcast of the St John Passion [listen -- track 41, 'Durch dein Gefängnis'].

The Suntory Hall Johannespassion. DVD still frame © 2000 EuroArts
The Suntory Hall Johannespassion. DVD still frame © 2000 EuroArts

Bach wrote the St John Passion in 1724 for Good Friday at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, and performed it four times, making a different performing version on each occasion. These days a modern hybrid is normally used, but conductor Masaaki Suzuki makes use of Bach's fourth (1749) version (returning closest to the 1724 original) for this historic performance from Tokyo. The result is an accomplished and moving original instrument performance using excellent soloists from both Europe (notably German tenor Gerd Türk as the Evangelist, and brief, magical contributions from English countertenor Robin Blaze [listen -- track 59, 'Es ist vollbracht']) and Japan.

During a short video interview on the disc, Suzuki (a former student of Ton Koopman) comments on the success of Bach's message when transported to Japan, performed by Japanese people and broadcast internationally, and on the strong energy and power that he feels from Bach's music.

The production is excellent, and the camerawork fairly unobtrusive. The Suntory Hall audience is noticeably quiet (unlike the lunchtime concert I attended there last year -- see below), presumably not having been invited to join in the chorales, and distractions during this two-hour performance are minimal.

Masaaki Suzuki directing the St John Passion. DVD still frame © 2000 EuroArts
Masaaki Suzuki directing the St John Passion. DVD still frame © 2000 EuroArts

Sound and picture quality are also very good. Some visual artifacts are noticeable whenever there's fast movement -- look at Suzuki's right hand in the screen shot above to see this effect. This is fairly normal for compressed video formats, and it's only really a problem here during camera pans. Subtitles are available in English, French, Italian and Spanish, as well as the original German. Timing-wise, the English subtitles are spot-on, and I noticed only a couple of spelling mistakes.

I'm reviewing the EuroArts/TDK version packaged for DVD region 2 (Japan, South Africa, Europe), but it's also available for region 1 (Canada, USA and US territories) on the Image Entertainment label, although packaged, apparently, with less booklet information.

Copyright © 19 April 2003 Keith Bramich, Worcestershire, UK

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Johannespassion - Bach at the Suntory Hall in Tokyo

DV-BAJPN DVD-9 / PAL / LPCM / AC3 / DTS 16:9 Region code ALL 120' 2001 EuroArts/TDK

Midori Suzuki, soprano; Robin Blaze, countertenor; Gerd Türk, tenor; Chiyuki Urano, bass baritone, Stephan MacLeod, bass; Bach Collegium Japan; Masaaki Suzuki, conductor; Shokichi Amano, director; Akira Sugiura, producer for NHK; Paul Smaczny, producer for EuroArts Music International

J S Bach: St John Passion BWV245; Documentary - 'Interview with Masaaki Suzuki'

BUY THIS EUROPEAN FORMAT DVD FROM CROTCHET

BUY THE US FORMAT DVD FROM AMAZON.COM

ROBIN BLAZE TALKS TO RODERIC DUNNETT

BACH IN GOOD HANDS (MASAAKI SUZUKI), WITH BASIL RAMSEY

LUNCHTIME AT SUNTORY HALL

BACH COLLEGIUM JAPAN

SUNTORY HALL

THE J S BACH HOMEPAGE

PERSPECTIVES ON THE ST JOHN PASSION AND THE JEWS

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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Saturday series of shorter CD reviews