Bach's St John Passion, as you've never heard it before

On 31 March 2017, Chandos Records – one of the world's premier classical record companies – released a groundbreaking new recording of Bach's St John Passion with Crouch End Festival Chorus and conductor David Temple.

It was the first UK recording of the work in English for over 40 years, and the sensitive translation by Neil Jenkins provided a wonderful springboard for the sense of drama and clarity of storytelling that have already brought it to the attention of so many.

Performed in Baroque pitch with the Bach Camerata and a host of top British soloists, the recording has received enthusiastic reviews from the critics and the listening public. And there was a packed house on 1 April 2017 for the live performance marking the launch of the work at St John's Smith Square in London.

The recording is now available worldwide to purchase as a digital download or CD, and a great place to buy a copy is on the Chandos Records website.

St John Passion CD trailer

With footage from the September 2016 recording sessions at St Jude's, Hampstead Garden Suburb.

St John Passion CD reviews

Enlarge Image Crouch End Festival Chorus recording Bach's St John Passion in September 2016 at St Jude's Hampstead Garden Suburb | Picture: Paul Robinson
Crouch End Festival Chorus recording Bach's St John Passion in September 2016 at St Jude's Hampstead Garden Suburb | Picture: Paul Robinson

The warm words for the new St John Passion recording started with a glowing review in the April 2017 edition of the classical music bible Gramophone magazine.

Since then, the CD has attracted critical interest from throughout the British classical music community, and has featured more than once on BBC Radio 3.

And pleasing as it is to see the interest from the critics, it is especially heartening to see the online reviews from members of the public who bought the CD - both in the UK and the US. The recording made the top 10 of the official UK classical charts and remained in the top 30 throughout April 2017.


Here's what the critics and public had to say:

"I must confess that – given a long-held preference for listening to (and performing) works in their original tongue – I was prepared to scoff at such an affront to Bach’s intentions. However, by the end of the opening chorus and the Evangelist’s first gripping appearance I was completely hooked, being agreeably surprised at the immediacy of meaning. It helps that [translator Neil Jenkins] has taken such care to match many of Bach’s starting consonants, that rhyming schemes are maintained wherever possible and that each of Bach’s syllables has an English equivalent of similar stress.

"... [One] will struggle to find more committed, well-balanced, agile and crisp singing than that of the Crouch End Festival Chorus, who are on top form throughout. Under David Temple’s inspired direction they can switch in an instant from a focused fervour (in their chorales) to the most vengeful scornfulness imaginable.

" ... Frankly, none of the soloists could be bettered, nor the superb continuo team, led by organist Peter Jackel. It is also worth buying this recording just to savour Reiko Ichise’s viola da gamba obbligato. Congratulations to all concerned on producing such a buoyant, absorbing and sonically thrilling recording."
Malcolm Riley in Gramophone

"If you need a new recording of St John Passion in English, this is the one to get"
Record Review, BBC Radio 3

"An exciting new recording. ... This is one of the most persuasive recordings I’ve ever heard. It’s forceful, passionate, incredibly expressive... What a fantastic recording that is."
Sarah Walker in Essential Classics, BBC Radio 3

"Neil Jenkins' translation is exceptionally sympathetic. ...The story zips past when it's in your own language, helping me to remember, for the first time in years, the huge excitement of discovering the work for the first time. Listening to the brilliantly communicative Evangelist of Robert Murray brings a special pleasure of its own, and the crowd scenes of the Second Part are fantastically vivid.

"The chorales ... feel like the hymns that they are intended to be, and this brings me to the singing of the Crouch End Festival Chorus ... [The] levels of drama and incisiveness that they bring to the turba choruse are often extraordinary.

"The playing of the Bach Camerata, on period instruments, is unimpeachable. They create dramatic tension in the opening chorus through playing of marvellous precision, and the instrumental obligatti are top notch throughout. ... The conducting of David Temple ... is of a standard that could happily hold its own in the company of any of the conductors mentioned elsewhere in this review, and among many others more famous.

"The obvious competition for this will come from the English Chamber Orchestra's 1971 recording conducted by Benjamin Britten, which is in its own way wonderful, but this one feels more immediate and more involving because of the excellent sound, the clarity of the singing and the consistent beauty of the textures."
Simon Thompson on MusicWeb International

"The first St John Passion in English in nearly half a century surpasses its venerable predecessor, Benjamin Britten's 1971 Decca recording with Peter Pears. ... [Its] drama and emotional potency derive instead from the deeply felt, musically sublime and spiritually ardent performances marshalled with palpable intensity by David Temple. Wholly authentic and immediate, John Jenkins's eloquent New Novello Choral Edition is, in itself, something of a marvel, prompting richly characterised contributions from all concerned. Robert Murray's poetically alert Evangelist bests Minkowski's Lothar Odinius and is markedly less arch and stilted than Pears for Britten. The heartfelt and direct Jesus of Ashley Riches is, appropriately, more human than Britten's declamatory Gwynne Howell. The Bach Camerata play with idiomatic certainty and utter conviction, the 100-plus voices of the Crouch End Festival Chorus intensely fervent yet exquisitely nuanced. In a word: essential."
Michael Quinn on Classical Ear

"[There's] plenty to recommend a recording ... with a hefty100-plus chorus mustering venom aplenty. The solo line-up is without a weak link"
BBC Music Magazine (**** four stars)

"Temple's version with the Crouch End Festival Chorus ... has fine voices"
The Times

"This Chandos recording [enables] listeners to revisit the work afresh. [It] bears all the best aspects of the tradition of choral society performances in the UK: enthusiastic, upfront singing and an impressive, effusive body of sound from a massed choir. ... CEFC provides an emphatic entry after the dramatic instrumental introduction, ... fearsome fury as the crowd baying for Christ's blood during his trial and crucifixion, and a moving, reflective manner in the chorales.

"The use of English also spurs the vocal soloists on to a vivid narrative presence, which, in turn, results in a thoroughly dramatic and engaging interpretation for the listener.

"Re-casting a work in a language other than that in which it was written inevitably calls for compromise in the synthesis between word and music, but that is more than made up for by the vigour and cogency here, an immediate musical re-enactment of Bach's sacred narrative.... A Matthew Passion from the same forces would be equally welcome."
Curtis Rogers on Classical Source (**** four stars)

"This is a beautifully crafted recording which, as a native English speaker, brought a new focus to my enjoyment of this emotional masterpiece."
Roger Weston on (***** five stars)

"It is both moving and exhilarating with the commanding performances of the soloists and the outstanding response from Crouch End Festival Chorus. In my opinion it is not one to miss."
Smusic on (***** five stars)

"An outstanding recording of Bach’s St. John Passion in English performed to an exquisite standard by Crouch End Festival Chorus, soloists, orchestra and conductor. The reputable Chandos Records have once again produced a recording where the mixture of detail and the feeling of being ‘in the space’ is perfect. I found myself totally immersed in the drama; the ability to follow the exact meaning of the story in English resulting from the clear diction and unrelenting energy being crucial in drawing me fully into the events surrounding the crucifixion."
Helen Claire on (***** five stars)

"This is an outstanding recording in every way. Perfect sonic clarity, soloists with beautiful tone and crystal clear voices and choral work that puts most other recordings to shame. The Crouch End Festival Chorus, 100 strong in this recording, sings as one with a clarity of diction that is barely obtained by choruses a fraction of that size! - Buy this now, for yourselves, for your friends and for strangers!"
A. Roth on USA (***** five stars)

St John Passion panel discussion

Listen to our exclusive broadcast of an expert panel discussion on Bach's St John Passion, led by BBC radio presenter Russell Davies. Features translator Neil Jenkins, Sarah Butcher of the Bach Camerata, and David Temple, music director of Crouch End Festival Chorus.