- St. John Passion (Johannespassion), BWV 245 (BC D2)
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On the spectrum of performance forces used in Bach Passions, this version of the "Passion According to John" is at the opposite end from the gargantuan, but the effect produced by the Montréal-based Les Voix Baroques and Arion Baroque Ensemble is anything but small. Alexander Weimann leads a choir of 12 (which includes all the soloists but the Evangelist) and an orchestra of fewer than two dozen, and creates a sound that can be intimate or grandly powerful. The orchestra, which features violas d'amore, gamba, lute, transverse flutes, and oboes d'amore -- instruments that contribute a slightly archaic flavor -- is exceptionally colorful and provides nuanced timbral variety and exquisite clarity of detail, enhanced by the very fine balance of the recording. The soloists and chorus sing with glowing, vibrant intensity. Most of the 12 members, besides those with named solo roles, have solo arias and there is not a weak link among them. The group's tone is rich and full, and its articulation is crisp and subtly inflected. Jan Kabow brings a heroic, substantial, supple tenor to the role of the Evangelist. Stephan MacLeod has an oaken bass and is magisterial but warmly personal as Jesus; it's a splendid characterization. Tenor Lawrence Wiliford's lovely "Erwäge, wie sein blutgefärbter Rücken" and soprano Agnes Zsigovics' shimmering, mostly wind-accompanied solo, "Zerfliesse, mein Herze," are among the highlights of the album. Weimann's tempos overall are brisk and give the performance urgency (it is about ten minutes faster than the average version), but he allows the moments of chaste ethereality to unfold with serene spaciousness. Atma's pristine sound allows the purity of Bach's score to shine, but also offers plenty of amplitude when the music's grandeur calls for it. Highly recommended.