Our recording label, Analekta, released last May’s recording of the St. John Passion at the very end of February. You can listen to it on the Analekta site, on Spotify, and it’s available for download from iTunes and Analekta. We think the best way to procure the recording is from us, by visiting our site, or calling the Bachhaus at 610 866 4382, (or stopping by).
A few thoughts about the recording (about which I wrote, at the time, here, here, and here): This was definitely a labor of love. The Choir loves singing the St. John – It’s a very important part of our musical DNA. A precursor to our organization sang the America premiere in 1888, in Bethlehem, under the direction of The Choir’s founder, J. Fred Wolle. We recorded it between weekends of the 2011 Bethlehem Bach Festival, a grueling schedule under any circumstances, especially so, since most of us have day jobs! The exhaustion and other prosaic concerns were immediately washed away by the experience of the music. In fact, I think the sessions were among the easiest in which I’ve ever participated, at least from an endurance standpoint. This was made possible by several factors. First, Greg Funfgeld works extremely hard to balance the pressures of recording difficult music with extremely high standards, while maintaining an atmosphere of loving calm. Second, our producer and balance engineer for this project, Martha de Francisco, was also able to balance her exacting standards and insight with a similar sense of patience and calm. Greg and Martha made a really remarkable dream team in working towards the goals of this project. Third, we had a magnificent performance resonating in our musical souls from the previous weekend. It was a St. John to remember, and the contributions from all the soloists were amazingly beautiful. In particular, the singing of our Evangelist, Charles Daniels, set an extremely high standard that we couldn’t help but seek to achieve. Charles was joined by wonderful soloists from both sides of the Atlantic: Julia Doyle, Benjamin Butterfield, William Sharp, Christòpheren Nomura, and David Newman.
My wife, mother-in-law, and I hard the privilege of listening to the first edit of the recording from start to finish, twice, during a Thanksgiving trip. After listening about halfway through, my mother-in-law said, “I don’t know how you can sing anything else!” The St. John is so laden with depth, with theological insight, with musical genius, that it’s definitely on my desert island list. With the release of this recording, an important part of our living legacy is now preserved forever. I am exceptionally proud of every facet of it (do read Robin Leaver’s exceptional essay on listening to the Passion with 21st century ears).
Those are some thoughts on the musical and spiritual aspects of the recording. I’m also pleased to say that Martha and her assistants recorded and edited us extremely well. This is no small feat: balancing 100 singers against a chamber orchestra is quite a puzzle of microphone placement, as is capturing the ambiance of the room, and the pace of a live performance (from several disjunct takes). Technically, in terms of sound and recording quality, I believe this is one of our finest recordings. Analekta’s graphic design department did a wonderful job with the cover and the booklet. I mused at the end of our last season that we seem to have reached a new altitude as an organization. With this new recording, I think that evolution continues.
PS. Happy Bach’s Birthday!