When people spoke of ‘the great Bach’ in the late 18th century, it was not to Johann Sebastian but to his second son Carl Philipp Emanuel that they were referring, because JS’s rugged contrapuntalism was seen as passé.
A century later JS came back into fashion and drove CPE’s music into the shadows; only recently has his star gone back into the ascendant, though many of his works, including his St John Passion, disappeared at the end of the Second World War.
Having found the manuscript of that Passion in Kiev, the Ukrainian conductor Kirill Karabits has now given its first performance in over two centuries with the aid of the BBC Singers and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
This work may not have the majestic power of Johann Sebastian’s St John Passion, but its tissue of recitatives, arias, and chorales has a grave theatricality. Chorus and orchestra were in fine form at the Cadogan, and baritone Michael Bundy was a resonant Christ, but what made the evening unforgettable was the presence of tenor Robin Tritschler in the narrative role of the Evangelist. His German diction was as natural as everyday conversation, but the soaring sweetness of his sound conferred an exalted nobility on every detail of this time-worn tale.