It seems as though Joshua Rifkin's theory that Bach performed his choral works with one voice per part (OVPP) has been cemented in standard repertoire. This release is likely to be ranked among historically informed, though not OVPP, recordings generally regarded as gold standards: Gardiner and Herreweghe.
What sets this set apart from the rest is not simply it's use of OVPP (indeed, it's been done before: the very first OVPP Bach recording was Rifkin's B-Minor Mass, followed by Andrew Parrott, then Cantus Colln), but because the singers in Minkowski's consort have the ability to sing as a unit and as soloists. The fatal flaw on many OVPP recordings (McCreesh's St. Matthew Passion included) is the tendency to use singers who function well only as a soloist or part of the ensemble. Minkowski has chosen well-known singers, yet pays close attention to how well they blend together as a unit, while as soloists, they express with the most hearfelt devotion and understanding the text they are singing.
This is Minkowski's first recording of Bach, and what a spectacular debut! He's proven himself a competent Handelian, brilliant conductor of Rameau, and I can only hope he offers more Bach in the near future (a new St. Matthew or St. John Passion perhaps?)
As for the conducting itself, Minkowski is not one who is known for moderate tempi. The tempi here are brisk, but for some reason they do not seem rushed. They seem exciting. Compare for instance the opening chorus of the "Gloria," and how differently Konrad Junghanel and Marc Minkowski bring out the colors at relatively fast speeds. Many might criticize Junghanel (an excellent conductor nonetheless) of rushing and making the chorus seem underpowered and anemic, while Minkowski's never loses its majesty, forward momentum, and almost dancelike quality.
Like in Herreweghe's recording, Minkowski's basso continuo has real PRESENCE. A must for any concerted work of Baroque repetoire, the basso continuo line must have presence and the performers must be able to be creative- to improvise their parts with impressive originality. Such efforts have been made in the astonishing opera recordings by Rene Jacobs, and one would wish for the same efforts to be applied to religious music- and Minkowski has done it. Minkowski plays with the cello/bass accompaniment in the continuo a bit to a achieve a greater sense of variety and drama within the choruses, for example, in the Dona Nobis and Pleni Sunt Coeli fugues.
One could not wish for better soloists, and this is indeed the key to a good OVPP record. Special mention goes to bass Christian Immler and Nathalie Stutzmann, whose Agnus Dei is one of the most stunning I've heard.
It is easily one of my new favorites in the Bach discography, and no serious collector of 'the father of modern music' should be without it.