... I can almost promise that you'll hear this performance as the most passionate ever. If your taste for Bach was formed by the uralt recordings of Hermann Scherchen or Hermann Prey, with all their grandeur, or the clarity and virtuosity of 21st C recordings by Philippe Herreweghe or John Eliot Gardiner, I think you'll be amazed by the fusion of both affects in this recording by Ricercar Consort, conducted by Philppe Pierlot. Modern physics has given us the notion of an equivalency of mass and energy; this performances synthesizes them. It helps that the recording technology, engineered in France in 2010, is as full-fidelity and clean as any recording of vocal/orchestral music I've ever heard.
This is a performance by smaller forces than Scherchen used, but don't presume that smaller forces and original instruments imply less "power". The eight singers of Ricercar (who are the chorus as well as the soloists) produce a more potent -- because more focused and properly tuned -- sound than any choir of 24 or 36 less-trained singers could. The two basses -- Matthias Vieweg as Jesus, and Stephan MacLeod as Pilatus, Petrus and principal soloist for arias -- have huge, gorgeous timbres to spare. Evangelist Hans-Jörg Mammel has the ringing 'squillo' tenor of a major opera divo. Male alto Carlos Mena is not your thin hooting countertenor; he has two arias and he 'nails' them both with outstanding tuning and phrasing. Sopranos Maria Keohane and Helena Ek are perfectly flexible and clarino-trumpet clear; no caterwauling vibrato mars their balance with the lower voices. No other recording of the Johannes-Passion has such a perfectly mixed and matched vocal ensemble.
The Passio secundum Johannem has, it seems to me, always been given second place in Bach's oeuvre to the St. Matthew Passion. Musicologist Carsten Hinrichs, in the notes for this recording, maintains that that judgment is unfair. This libretto, he writes --based on the Gospel of John and on the most moving of Lutheran congregational chorales -- is "the finest in the world". Philippe Pierlot's dynamic interpretation certainly makes a case for it; "... played without bombast, Bach's music deploys an even greater effect: suffering and redemption, despair and hope, majesty and emotion are captured solely in the manner of their musical setting." Philippe Pierlot is not at all reserved or pedantic in his conducting; he aims for both majesty and excitement, and his ensemble responds to his baton with ardor.