Bach: St Mark Passion (ed. Koopman)

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: St Mark Passion (ed. Koopman)
PERFORMER: Sibylla Rubens (soprano), Bernhard Landauer (alto), Christoph Prégardien, Paul Agnew (tenor), Peter Kooy, Klaus Mertens (bass); Boys of the Breda Sacrament Choir, Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir/Koopman
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-80221-2
The St Mark Passion was performed in Leipzig’s Thomaskirche on 23 March 1731. The text, by Bach’s frequent collaborator Picander, has survived intact but the music has vanished without trace. Scholars have long been certain that Bach was the composer and that he reused music from his earlier works for the choruses and arias, though the recitatives and turbae must have been freshly composed. Most previous reconstructions have assumed that the Cantata, BWV 198, the Trauer-Ode, was the source for much of the music, and have taken their recitatives from a Mark Passion by Bach’s contemporary Reinhard Keiser.

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Ton Koopman’s new reconstruction challenges this consensus. He’s turned to other cantatas for his music and composed the recitatives himself. While his choices will doubtless engender much debate, perhaps the main point to address is whether Koopman’s St Mark coheres into a satisfying and convincing whole. Overall, I think it does, helped by strong performances from Prégardien (Evangelist) and Kooy (Christus) in particular. Choruses, chorales and most arias work well in context and the recitatives are persuasive if a touch overwrought at times. Despite one major error of judgement (inserting an extra aria, after Peter’s betrayal of Christ), Koopman’s Passion is an impressive, and controversial, achievement. Graham Lock