St John Passion, BWV 245
Dorothee Mields (soprano), Damien Guillon (countertenor), Robin Tritschler (tenor), Peter Kooij (bass) et al; Collegium Vocale Gent/Philippe Herreweghe
Phi LPH 031 107.08 mins (2 discs)
Hot on the heels of Masaaki Suzuki’s second recording of St Matthew comes Philippe Herreweghe’s third of St John. While Suzuki’s is essentially a ‘replay’, Herreweghe’s is more of a rethink: after 2001’s flirtation with the 1725 ‘second thoughts’, it reverts to the 1724 original he recorded back in 1987, this time with slimmed-down though not ultra-minimalist forces. The result is not only the ‘best of three’, but a recording that leaves most competitors floundering.
Herreweghe’s unswerving focus is evident from the opening chorus, whose elemental summons is exactingly calibrated, dark-grained and resolute. The urgency of the declamations of ‘Herr’ – dramatic, yet never spuriously attention-seeking – signal Herreweghe’s whole approach: his crowd scenes can embrace perky sarcasm to self-righteous spleen without spilling over into caricature. Perhaps there’s not quite the electricity John Eliot Gardiner earths, but that’s not Herreweghe’s way. His tempos strike home without exaggeration and he’s assembled a formidable team. Maximilian Schmitt’s Evangelist narrates with exemplary pacing and dramatic involvement, while Krešimir Stražanac’s Jesus needs no halo of strings à la St Matthew Passion to consecrate his authority.
Among the plenitudinous arias, Dorothee Mields’s beguiling light-as-air ‘Ich folge Dir’ and sovereign ‘Zerfliesse mein Herze’, the aching stillness of Damien Guillon’s ‘Es ist vollbracht’, and Robin Tritschler’s ‘Ach, mein Sinn’, are stand-outs. But ultimately Herreweghe’s is an ensemble triumph, a symbiotic entwining of voice and instruments that brings about repeated moments of wonder. Paul Riley