CPE Bach: St John Passion

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LABELS: Capriccio
WORKS: St John Passion
PERFORMER: Elisabeth Scholl (soprano), Alexandra Petersamer (contralto), Gunnar Gudbjörnsson (tenor), Jochen Kupfer (bass); Zelter Ensemble, Capriccio Baroque Orchestra Basel/Joshard Daus
The musical estate of CPE Bach, lost for over half a century, was rediscovered in the Ukraine in 1999 and returned two years later to the Berlin Sing-Akademie, from where it had been evacuated in 1943. As well as music by his godfather Telemann, by his ancestors and by his father JS Bach, the estate contains the bulk of Carl Philipp Emanuel’s compositions in autograph or authorised copies. Among these are 50 concertos, 20 Passion settings – he is known to have written 21 – and many smaller-scale vocal and instrumental pieces. This St John Passion, first heard in 1772, comes from the estate and is here recorded for the first time. When Carl Philipp Emanuel succeeded Telemann to the post of Hamburg’s music director in 1768 he had to take on a formidable workload and this Passion is thus a pasticcio in which Telemann’s own St John Passion of 1745 plays a very considerable part. In addition there are four arias by Stölzel and an adaptation of the closing chorus of his father’s St John Passion. Indeed, only two arias of the work are known to be by CPE Bach himself. Perhaps the chief interest in this work lies in the skilful manner in which he fuses the disparate styles of his material to create a unified and emotionally satisfying whole. The performance, especially by the choir, is lively and on the whole secure, but I was less taken with Gunnar Gudbjörnsson’s tonally ill-focused Evangelist and by his monochrome responses to the arias – ‘So freiwillig’ is a dismal affair. Period instrumental support is seldom more than adequate and sometimes rather less so. Readers may find comparison with Telemann’s 1745 Passion (Eufoda) interesting and instructive. Nicholas Anderson