Bach: St Mark Passion

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Musica Oscura
WORKS: St Mark Passion
PERFORMER: Connor Burrowes (treble), David James (countertenor), Rogers Covey-Crump, Paul Agnew (tenor), Gordon Jones, Teppo Tolonen (baritone); Ring Ensemble of Finland, European Union Baroque Orchestra/Roy Goodman
If we are to believe Bach’s obituary notice, the composer wrote as many as five settings of the Passion story. Only the St John and St Matthew have survived, but we do know a little about a third setting, the St Mark (1731). While only the libretto by Bach’s frequent collaborator, Picander, has been handed down, it is almost certain that the musical element consisted substantially of material which Bach had already used in other contexts. Chief among these are two sacred cantatas, the Trauer Ode (BWV 198) and ‘Widerstehe, doch der Sünde’ (BWV 54), and the Funeral Music (BWV 244a) for Bach’s former employer at Cöthen, Prince Leopold. Over the past half-century several attempts have been made at editing and performing the St Mark Passion, with varying degrees of success. This most recent version is the work of Simon Heighes, whose chief editorial responsibility has been the provision of a plausible recitative. This he has done in two ways: first, by borrowing from a St Mark Passion by Reinhard Keiser which Bach knew well; secondly, by inserting newly composed material.


Such putative exercises as this are both welcome and intrinsically worthwhile and have resulted in this instance in a musically enjoyable experience. The extent to which Heighes has succeeded in drawing together a dramatically motivated account of the Passion is perhaps a matter for debate. He is, after all, no Bach, and certainly does not claim to be in his lucid and modestly worded essay. But the soloists, Finnish choir and European Union Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Roy Goodman are persuasive advocates for a well-intentioned and often convincing project. Nicholas Anderson