Sunday afternoon I heard the American Bach Soloists give a pristine performance of Bach's St. John Passion. There was a chorus of 16 & an orchestra of the same size. Tenor Aaron Sheehan was a tireless & consistent Evangelist. He has a clear, high voice, & his singing was nicely connected. Baritone William Sharp was a noble Jesus. His voice is full & unforced & fits the music comfortably. He was also assigned the aria Mein teuer Heiland, which he sang in a calming manner. Countertenor Brennan Hall makes a clean & steady sound. He was sustained in Es ist vollbracht, which was accompanied by a lugubrious viola da gamba obbligato played by Elisabeth Reed. Tenor Derek Chester has an attractive, lyrical voice, & he worked hard to make his arias sound smooth. Baritone Joshua Copeland was solid & grounded in the bass arias & the part of Pilate. Soprano Clara Rottsolk had big, projecting high notes that made my concert companion wonder if she had wandered in from a Wagner opera. Her Zerfließe, mein Herze had a lot of strength. Except for the Evangelist & Jesus, the soloists also sang in the choruses. I did not see why the soloists were positioned behind the orchestra.
The concert felt scrupulously well-prepared. The choruses were clean & tidy, with occasional fussy details of articulation. Conductor Jeffrey Thomas led with square, even tempos that were not too fast or too slow. The orchestra played neatly. The performance was based on the 1725 version of the Passion, containing alternate versions of 5 numbers. A duet in which the soprano sings a chorale over the bass's running melody was striking. I was sorry not to have the churning opening chorus from the standard version, though. The serious-minded ABS audience was impressively quiet throughout & applauded the soloists appreciatively, especially Mr. Sheehan.
§ Bach's St. John Passion
American Bach Soloists
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor
Aaron Sheehan, tenor (Evangelista)
William Sharp, baritone (Christus)
Clara Rottsolk, soprano
Brennan Hall, countertenor
Derek Chester, tenor
Joshua Copeland, baritone
American Bach Choir
Sunday, January 27 2013, 4:00 pm
St. Mark's Lutheran Church