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Cantata Collective, Nicholas McGegan - Bach: St. John Passion
(Avie Records, 2023)
Nicholas McGegan is no stranger to the music of the late-Baroque period. He proved himself a Handel expert with his many recordings of that composer’s operas and oratorios performed with his Bay Area-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. In 35 years of recording, McGegan focused on J.S. Bach just once on 1991’s J.S. Bach: Clavierbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach (Harmonia Mundi). That is until a piece of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra broke off and formed the creatively named Cantata Collective, who, under the baton of Maestro McGegan released two recordings of Bach Cantatas1 in short order to favorable reviews. Gathering no moss, McGegan and the Collective release a reading of Bach’s St. John Passion, BWV 245 to no small listener anticipation.
Bach composed his oratorio during his first year as Kapellmeister at Thomaskirche in Leipzig. The work was first performed at Good Friday Vespers at the St. Nicholas Church on April 7, 1724, after a last-minute music council change from Thomaskirche to St. Nicholas Church. Like Handel and other composers, Bach made changes to the oratorio each time he performed it, creating four different performing versions. With no accepted performing version assigned, McGegan chooses to perform the work as Bach did at its premiere.
The Cantata Collective fields a small, mixed chorus of 12 singers, (three for each part) that compliments the modest instrument forces. This condensed orchestra and chorus make for an intimate yet robust production of the work. The soloists all dispatch their duties with skill and intensity. Tenor Thomas Cooley as the Evangelist and bass-baritone Paul Max Tipton lead the show with focused and nuanced performances. McGegan stabilizes the dynamics throughout, careful to keep the performance at a simmer. This performance compares favorably with those of John Butt and the Dunedin Consort2 and The Scholars Baroque Orchestra3.
J.S. Bach Cantatas, Volume 1, BWV 84, 170, 199 (Centaur Records, 2022) and J.S. Bach Cantatas, Volume 1, BWV 35, 54, 169 (Centaur Records, 2023)
John Passion (Linn Records, 2013)
J.S. Bach: St. John Passion (Naxos Records, 1994)