Bach: St John Passion (Concert Review - The Observer, 2012)
Stephen Layton has forged his own, near folkloric tradition by conducting his elite choir, Polyphony, in Bach's St John Passion every year on Good Friday for at least a decade. Yet nothing about their performance is habitual: the renewal of the choir or a change of soloists ignites each performance anew. This year's was a solemn joy. A scaled-down Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment were a notch below their usual excellence but are incapable of playing badly. As the Evangelist, Ian Bostridge probed deeper than ever into his vital narrative.
His prolonged ornamentation on the words "und weinte bitterlich" ("and wept bitterly") conveyed a terrible dolour, close to wailing while still being perfect in its vocal control. Iestyn Davies, now in the stratosphere of top young international countertenors, sang "Es ist vollbracht" with a purity that held the entire audience stock still, moved but unmoving. Roderick Williams (bass/Pilate) brought vigorous intensity to each utterance, with Polyphony's interjections urgent, alert and immaculately shaded. Most of these forces are recording the work for release on Hyperion next year: I am impatient.
Reviewed by Fiona Maddocks