JS Bach

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Rondeau Production
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: St Mark Passion, BWV 247
PERFORMER: Gudrun Sidonie Otto (soprano), Terry Wey (countertenor), Daniel Johannsen (tenor), Stephan MacLeod, Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass-baritone); Knabenkantorei Basel; Capriccio Barockorchester/Markus Teutschbein
CATALOGUE NO: ROP 609091

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Bach performed his St Mark Passion in Leipzig on at least two occasions. Although the score is no longer extant, the surviving librettos have allowed several attempts at a reconstruction – aided by a fair degree of scholarly consensus that some of the music was drawn from a 1727 funeral ode subsequently recycled into a work commemorating Bach’s Cöthen employer Prince Leopold. Whether in matching music to arias or refashioning recitatives, much is still up for grabs, and Alexander Grychtolik attempts a realisation of the later 1744 version, incorporating two arias whose texts were discovered in St Petersburg as recently as 2009. Like Ton Koopman he composes some of his own recitatives, but his decision to import elements from the St John and St Matthew Passions – especially some of the crowd choruses – can prove disconcerting.

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Disconcerting, too, for those encountering the Mark for the first time, is the radically different tone of the work. If the drama of the St John is defined by the truculent G minor of the opening chorus, and the differently-orientated ambition of the Matthew by its expanded forces and spaciousness, the Mark by contrast seems more intimate, gallant in places even. It’s a characteristic nurtured by Markus Teutschbein’s sensitively-paced direction, and both Daniel Johannsen’s Evangelist and Hanno Müller-Brachmann’s Jesus are tellingly imagined; but with the choir well back in the sound picture and the acoustic of Basel’s Martinskirche taming the venom of the crowd interpolations, an otherwise compelling performance is apt to swim in and out of focus. Paul Riley