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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750) Attributed
Lukas Passion BWV 246
Evangelist - Georg Jelden(tnoer)
Jesus - Ulrich Schaible (bass)
Charlotte Lehmann (soprano)
Gudrun Schmid (soprano)
Elisabeth Kunstler (alto)
Graeme Nicolson (tenor)
Wolfgang Herrlitz (bass)
Balinger Kantorei
Kammerorchester Collegium Musicum Tubingen/Gerhard Rehm
Licensed by courtesy of Bayer Records
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99051 [2 CDs: 58.26+59.18]


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According to one of his obituaries (c-written by his son C.P.E. Bach), J.S. Bach wrote five Passions, though one of these might have been a version of the St. Matthew Passion with just one chorus instead of two. And we have the text of his St. Mark Passion, which has been reconstructed by a number of musicologists. Regarding the fifth passion, we have just faint echoes and a manuscript. This is in the hand of Bach and his son C.P.E Bach, the majority in C.P.E.'s hand. Bach was wont to copy out scores for use at Leipzig (his copy of Handel's Brockes Passion is earliest surviving copy of that work) and this St. Luke Passion was undoubtedly performed at Leipzig. But whether the Passion is by J.S. Bach has been exercising musicologists ever since. Both Mendelssohn and Brahms saw the manuscript and expressed their opinions (both doubting Bach's authorship). There have even been suggestions that it is an early work by C.P.E. Bach.

But, whoever its composer, this is a charming work and its performance enables us to shed more light on the background to Bach's two major Passions. The first surprise, on listening to it, is the complete difference in atmosphere to Bach's later passions. This St. Luke Passion is essentially a sequence of recitatives alternating with chorales. Lightly orchestrated with just secco recitative (no accompanied recitatives here), it is a gentle, rather old-fashioned sounding work.

There are two soprano arias, two tenor arias an alto aria and a Terzetto for two sopranos and alto. There are over thirty chorales and over a dozen choruses. All the chorales are quite short and only the opening chorus ('Furcht und Zittern') is of any length. The result is quite a fast-paced narrative, cramming over 100 numbers into under two hours of music. On this recording, some of the Chorales are sung, one voice to a part, by the soloists and in other choral movements, the soloists act as a semi-chorus in contrast to the main body of the choir. As the CD lacks any kind of notes, I am unclear whether this is something that the conductor (Gerhard Rehm) has decided, or whether it is specified in the score. Either way, it makes for an attractive way of varying the texture of the piece.

The full choir have few opportunities to sing any developed music but they acquit themselves creditably. They are, regrettably, recorded rather far back. When acting as semi-chorus in the chorales, the soloists display a little more vibrato than is desirable, but the effect is never too unpleasant. But with so many chorales, they do start to sound rather four-square, as if the conductor was anticipating that we join in at home. I would have liked far more flexibility.

Gerhard Rehm's view of this work overall is a little simplistic. His reading has a tendency to dourness and can lack charm. And his speeds are rather slow, particularly in the recitatives. There are many of them and Georg Jelden, the Evangelist seems to make heavy weather of them. His performance is fine, but I would have liked more lightness, speed and flexibility. (The performance of the passion recorded by the Bremen Baroque Orchestra manages to knock over ten minutes off the timing for the work).

None of the arias plumbs the depths in the way that we expect from J.S. Bach, but they are efficient and charming. They are decently sung here, though the notes fail to identify which person is singing what. The most arresting moments are those involving the chorus and the soloists acting as semi-chorus, and the charming Terzetto 'Weh und Schmerz'. The composer includes another imaginative touch at the moment of Christís death, when a chorale, played twice by the winds of the orchestra, frames the chorale sung by the choir. This is followed by a long tenor aria (sung here, I think, by the Evangelist) which almost obsessively repeats the musical material based on the wind chorale.

This is a decent performance and all the soloists acquit themselves creditably. But I did not think that its sober, sombre mien brought out the best in the work. This is not the St. Matthew Passion, nor even the St. John. I would like to hear it in a lithe, original instrument performance that allows the piece's essential charm to appear.

But, if you are curious about Bach's 'other' Passion, then this recording, at super budget price, is a reasonable enough way for you to satisfy your curiosity. There are no notes and no libretto. Normally this does not matter, but with such a rarity this might prove a drawback.

Robert Hugill

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