Bach: St Mark Passion

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Carus
WORKS: St Mark Passion
PERFORMER: Dominique Horwitz (narrator); Amarcord; The Cologne Academy/Michael Alexander Willens
CATALOGUE NO: 83.244

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Tantalisingly, the liner notes refer to last year’s St Petersburg discovery of a libretto for Bach’s St Mark Passion as given in 1744 – and containing two extra arias; frustratingly the performance itself relies on a tweaking of Diethard Hellmann’s 1964 reconstruction of the 1731 original.

Frustrating because although Hellmann’s performing version coincides with others in seeking music from the Trauerode, BWV198 to recreate arias and the framing choruses – not a note of Bach’s score for the Mark Passion has survived – he ducks the issue of the recitatives and crowd scenes by delegating them to spoken narrative. (Another Trauerode-indebted version, by Simon Heighes, borrows the recitatives and choruses from Reinhard Keiser; while Ton Koopman, in a reconstruction that tore up all preconceptions, composed entirely from scratch.)

The Hellmann compromise results in something that sounds like a Good Friday meditation with a little music parachuted in, rather than the elevated and elevating through-composed dramas we expect from Bach’s Passions. 

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Augmented to nine voices, Amarcord and the small-scale forces of the Cologne Academy turn in an agreeably soft-grained, intimate (if even-keeled) account in live performances from Dresden’s acoustically-generous Frauenkirche, but for the bigger picture, in more senses than one, Koopman or Roy Goodman’s recording of the Heighes need to be heard. Paul Riley