CD review: Minkowski’s John Passion

First published in the Guardian on 27 April, 2017

St John Passion
Les Musiciens du Louvre/Minkowski (Erato)

Conductor Marc Minkowski describes Bach’s John Passion as “the most violent, vivid and dramatic score” of the early 18th century, so it’s not surprising that violence and drama is what we get from his excellent Grenoble-based period band Les Musiciens du Louvre. This passion is brutal from the start — bass notes in the opening chorus are full of threat, a contrabassoon added for extra thud — but it’s also punctuated with sudden and very devastating gentleness. Try one of the silky chorales or an aria like Mein teurer Heiland to see what I mean. The eight-voice ensemble singing is terrific, now vicious, now officious, now keening, and although the vocal soloists aren’t always dazzling (I found Lothar Odinius’s Evangelist a bit cloying, the soprano voices a little shrill) there’s great poise in the alto and bass numbers. That contrabassoon is back for the final chorus, underpinning the exhausted grief with a grim inevitability. It’s an intense, full-throttle account.