PERFORMER: Nele GramB, Johanna Winkel, Markus Brutscher, Markus Flaig, Elvira Bill, Jan Thomer, James Oxley, Michael Dahmen; Kölner Kammerchor; Collegium Cartusianum/Peter Neumann
CATALOGUE NO: 83.428
The non-liturgical poetic Passion text by the Hamburg author Barthold Heinrich Brockes enjoyed success from the date of its publication in 1712. Reinhard Keiser was first in the ring with his setting, followed by Telemann and Handel in 1716 and subsequently by Johann Mattheson, Johann Friedrich Fasch and Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel.
Bach, too, used sections of it in his St John Passion, and it is in this respect that the present recording is of special interest since it is based on the copy which Bach made towards the end of his life, partly in his own hand, of Handel’s setting.
The images evoked and the sentiments expressed by Brockes have been harshly dealt with by some scholars and critics. Yet, unattractive though they may strike today’s sensibilities, they evidently struck a chord with contemporary taste which identified with the newer values of the German Enlightenment.
Compared with the settings by Keiser, Telemann and Mattheson, Handel’s music sometimes seems contextually lustreless. Why he set the piece at all is something of a mystery since he had already settled in London where such a work, in German, would have been of little or no interest.
Peter Neumann strikes a powerful blow for some reassessment of Handel’s version. He is assisted above all by Markus Brütscher’s Evangelist which has urgency, cogency and clarity in equal measure. Markus Flaig’s Jesus is also effective as is the relatively modest contribution by the Cologne Chamber Choir.
Handel’s music, notwithstanding a star-studded vocal line-up, was ill-served by August Wenzinger’s ponderous version (DG Archiv). Nicholas McGegan’s recording (Hungaroton) was considerably more successful but Neumann’s account is the first to have made me want to listen to the piece with greater frequency. Nicholas Anderson