- St. John Passion (Johannespassion), BWV 245 (BC D2)
You wouldn't guess that Marc Minkowski, a French conductor of Polish and American background, would be a natural for Bach, and indeed he has focused more on French Baroque music than on German music during his long career. Likewise, the Louvre and its Musiciens (even if they're now Grenoblois) do not have Bach in their bones. The soloists in this reading of Bach's "St. John Passion, BWV 245," deliver their lines convincingly, but do not stand out. Yet for all this, what's on offer here is a compelling "Johannes-Passion." In the interview-style booklet notes, Minkowski calls the work "the most violent, vivid, and dramatic score of its time." That might lead you to expect a blood-and-thunder reading, but Minkowski and his singers and musicians deliver something better: an interpretation that is sharp, biting. Minkowski uses an unusual configuration of fairly large orchestra (25 musicians) and small choir (eight crack singers, perhaps a reasonable compromise between traditional choirs and one-voice-per-part approaches, although a bit more contrast may be desirable). The balance between the forces is carefully honed, and the care with articulation taken with the choir reaches a level for the record books: this is a reading that brings the text home as few others do. Sample one of the scenes with interplay between the Evangelist and the chorus, such as "Die Kriegsknechte aber," for the full effect. The chorales add a positive X factor: they are clear, precise, and beautiful. And an even stronger factor is the engineering from Erato, executed in the superb Chapelle de la Trinité in Lyon; the nature of Minkowski's engagement with the text is sonically explicated fully. Minkowski says that he spent some years contemplating the "St. John Passion" before tackling it, and this is audible in the results.