…If your taste leans towards Austro-German late-Romantic music and you are, perhaps, also enjoying CPO’s superb on-going Weingartner series then this SACD is a must. It certainly deserves a top recommendation.
J.S. Bach's Johannes-Passion, or St. John Passion, BWV 245 – one of just two surviving Bach Passion works out of an original four or five – is, simply put, a headache for editors and performers wishing to recreate the authentic, stamped-and-approved original work. There is no such beast: the work was performed at least four times during Bach's lifetime, and for each new presentation he overhauled the music, adding numbers, deleting numbers, changing numbers, so that today we really have four different St. John Passions through which to pick and choose our way. Happily enough, however, Bach misses the mark in not a single one of those numbers, and the director can hardly go wrong selecting from such a wealth of fine material. The St. John Passion was first heard on April 7, 1724 (Good Friday), and then reproduced for Leipzig churchgoers in 1725, sometime in the early 1730s (perhaps 1732), and then again in 1749. Perhaps in part because of its sometimes bewildering compositional history and the fact that its texts were not really conceived as a single entity (Bach seems to have arranged the texts himself from a number of disparate sources, and sometimes his efforts – which seem to have been hasty ones – are not altogether graceful), the St. John Passion has never been a sweepingly popular work like the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244. But it is a monumental work that must have made quite an impression indeed at its first performance, early on in Bach's tenure as Cantor of Leipzig.
Helmuth Rilling is an excellent conductor and interpreter of Bach's sacred music. Recorded from 1969 to 1985, over a longer period of time than most other sets, there is a lot of change throughout the series. Rilling's recordings are more dense and lush than others, and his tempi are often slower than HIP recordings - no "original instruments" for Rilling. But he creates such a detailed sound-world that any fan of these works should want to hear Rilling's versions to compare with others. This said, Rilling often uses a technique that I find a bit disturbing. He'll have one instrument or group of instruments sequestered to one track, and others on the other track, giving a sound similar to that of early Beatles' stereo mixes, where vocals were on one track and instruments on the other. This is something you never hear in live performance; while one instrument may be on one side, you still hear it on the other side. This tends to make some of the movements sound as though there's no blend among the singers and musicians.(Kirk McElhearn)