This performance aims to replicate the premiere of the St. John Passion on Good Friday 1724--Bach's first full year as Kantor in Leipzig. I find the 1724 version greatly preferable to the 1725 revision, used in some recent recordings, which omits the profound 10-minute long opening chorus "Herr, unser herrscher" ("Lord, our ruler").
Although conductor Jos van Veldhoven has concluded that Bach had relatively few musicians at his disposal in 1724, this is not a one-voice-per-part performance (contrary to the previous review). In addition to the six vocal soloists, Veldhoven employs four ripienists to add weight in the choral passages. These small forces clearly don't produce the volume of a large chorus, but they don't sound undernourished either. In fact, one reviewer calls this SACD recording "the best-sounding St. John available on disc."
The vocalists and instrumentalists of the Netherlands Bach Society are superb. Gerd Turk excels as the evangelist, as does Stephan MacLeod as Christ. Soprano Caroline Stam beautifully performs the great aria "Ich folge dir gliechfalls" ("I follow you likewise"), although I somewhat miss the flute that Bach used in later years. The closing chorus "Ruht wohl" ("Rest in peace") is crystal clear and profoundly moving.
The presentation of the recording also deserves special mention. An attractive slipcase contains a folder with the two discs, as well as a 192-page book containing the libretto, interpretative essays, and illustrations taken from the collection of the Catharijneconvent museum in Utrecht.
Addendum: This recording has been reissued in a version without the illustrated book St John Passion (Hybr).