One of the most grown-up review sites around

51,000 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

  Founder: Len Mullenger             Senior Editor: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  

Some items
to consider


colourful imaginative harmony
Renate Eggebrecht violin

Leticia Gómez-Tagle
Chopin, Liszt, Scarlatti

Guillaume LEKEU

Book 1 Book 2 Book3
Mota The Triptych: -Website

Acte Prealable returns
with New Releases

Superior performance

Shostakovich 6&7 Nelsons

Verdi Requiem Thielemann

Marianna Henriksson
An outstanding recital

Arnold Bax
Be converted

this terrific disc

John Buckley
one of my major discoveries

François-Xavier Roth
A game-changing Mahler 3


Bryden Thomson


Vaughan Williams Concertos

RVW Orchestral


REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

Support us financially by purchasing this from

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
St John Passion (1724 version)
James Gilchrist – Evangelist
Neal Davies – Christ
Sophie Bevan – soprano arias
Iestyn Davies – alto arias
Ed Lyon – tenor arias
Roderick Williams – bass arias
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
Academy of Ancient Music/Stephen Cleobury
rec. live, Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, 21-22 March 2016
KING’S COLLEGE KGS0018 SACD [54:03 + 55:20]

The week of Easter is a busy one for the King’s College Choir, much more so than Christmas. As well as their liturgical duties for the days from Maundy Thursday through to Easter Sunday, the choir normally mount one large scale Easter choral work every year. Last year it was the St John Passion, and this disc captures their live performances from Holy Week 2016.

It’s on the College’s own label, and the choir is obviously meant to be the biggest draw. In actual fact, however, they’re probably the performance’s weakest link. 2016 wasn’t a vintage year for them, and the boys sound unfocused and hollow throughout. In general, even though Bach probably used them in Leipzig, I’m not a fan of boys’ voices for this music – I much prefer the deeper artistry that adults bring – but they can have a very good impact: just listen to Edward Higginbottom’s New College, Oxford recording to hear it done well (review). They don’t work well here, unfortunately. They boys regularly stretch for the note (the legato quavers of the opening chorus aren’t taken well), and they sound almost squally in the final choruses. The turba choruses of the second part are especially iffy – listen to Wir haben keinen König den den Kaiser to see what I mean – and while the men are more often secure, even they sound a little off colour when launching the fugue of Wir haben ein Gesetz.

Elsewhere, the performance is very good. Stephen Cleobury has been conducting this work for decades, and knows what he is doing when it comes to shaping Bach’s great phrases. The orchestra respond to him very well (better than the choir!) and make a beautiful sound, the only misstep being a rather preponderant plucked sound from one of the continuo players during the tenor’s great Erwäge aria. The soloists are excellent, too. James Gilchrist seems to be the British go-to man now when it comes to singing the Evangelist, and he brings his huge experience to shaping every phrase with meaning and feeling: listen to the way he relishes the several iterations of “wärmete” (warmed) in Part One to let one example stand for many. Neal Davies is an excellent Christ, too, bringing his great dramatic experience to play, and sounding especially compelling in the dialogues with Pilate. Sophie Bevan sounds ever so slightly off colour in Zerfließe, mein Herze, but is excellent in Ich folge dir gleichfalls. Iestyn Davies is utterly magical in his two arias, especially a marvellously deep Es ist vollbracht. I’m not always keen on Ed Lyon’s voice, but he uses it to very beautiful effect in the great Erwäge aria, as well as scourging darkly in Ach, mein Sinn. More so than usual, Roderick Williams makes you wish the bass had been given more to do, and the beautiful honey of his voice is balm to the ears, even though he struggles a little to make his quavers accurate in Eilt, ihr angefochtnen Seelen.

This is a perfectly serviceable St John Passion, and you could even argue that it’s a good entry level recording for somebody new to the work who knows the name of the choir and is drawn in by them. The low price and the inclusion of full texts and translations (something missing from the earlier, on the whole more successful recording by the choir on Brilliant Classics - review) will also help. Seasoned Bachians, however, will find better elsewhere, nearly always with adult voices. I still love Gardiner’s first recording on DG for the immediacy of its drama and the magnificence of its singing (I haven’t heard his second - review), and Masaaki Suzuki’s Japanese recording has also blazed a trail to the top (review).

Simon Thompson



We are currently offering in excess of 51,000 reviews

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger