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George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759)
Brockes Passion

Evangelist - Martin Klietmann (tenor)
Jesus - Istvan Gai (baritone)
Tochter Zion - Maria Zadori (soprano)
Katalin Farkas (soprano)
Eva Barfai-Barta (soprano)
Eva Lax (contralto)
Drew Minter (counter tenor)
Peter Bajan (counter tenor)
Guy de Mey (tenor)
Janos Bandi (tenor)
Gunther Burzynski (baritone)
Stadtsingechor Halle
Capella Savaria/Nicholas McGegan (conductor)
Recorded 1994, Licensed from Hungaroton
Johannes Passion

Evangelist - Martin Klietmann (tenor)
Jesus - Jozsef Moldvay (baritone)
Pilatus - Charles Brett (countertenor)
Maria Zadori (soprano)
Ibolya Verebics (soprano)
Judith Nemeth (mezzo-soprano)
Gabor Kallay (tenor)
Istvan Gati (baritone)
Chamber Choir
Capella Savaria/Pal Nemeth (conductor)
Recorded 1995, Licensed from Hungaroton
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92003 [4 CDs: 52.34+51.49+5.57+0.04]

Handel's 'Brockes Passion' has had rather a bad press, suffering rather in comparison with Bach's passions. In fact, Handel's 'Brockes Passion' was written written at about the same time as 'Esther', some eight years before Bach wrote the St. John Passion. One of the subsidiary impulses which led to the creation of 'Esther' may have been a desire, on Handel's part, to hear some of the music from the passion performed as 'Esther' re-uses some nine numbers and others were re-used in 'Deborah',

The text had first been set by Keiser in 1712 and was set by Telemann in 1716. During Holy Week, in 1719, Johann Mattheson (who was also a friend of Handel's) arranged performances of four settings of the libretto by Keiser, Telemann, Handel and himself. Bach used elements of Brockes libretto when he came to write the St. John Passion and he knew Handel's setting, one of the earliest manuscripts of Handel's work is in J.S. ach's hand. Handel's own autograph of the work is lacking.

In style it lies somewhere between the liturgical passions of Bach and Telemann and the Italian oratorio. The tenor Evangelist narrates, the chorus takes on the role of the Christian faithful and the Jewish mob, there are arias commenting on the action, but the characters in the narrative also have arias - Jesus sings a duet with his mother. The Evangelist's narrations, though, are not taken directly from the gospels but are a rhymed text which is a free paraphrase of all four Gospels. Much of the commentary is given to the Daughter of Zion, emphasising the sufferings of Christ as proof of his devotion to mankind.

The keen eared may spot occasional pre-echoes of English oratorio even if this work has not the structural sophistication that Handel developed in this genre. Though leaving Germany when fairly young, he was sufficiently trained in and attuned to the Lutheran organ loft to understand what the congregation expected of a passion - a contemplative, meditative drama. Though the arias might vary stylistically in a way that does not happen in Bach, they are all firmly rooted in the psychology of the drama and this is helped by the popular libretto by Brockes.

As a result of recent research the performance starts with a very familiar piece of music, as the opening movement of Concerto Grosso Opus 3 no. 2, is used as the introductory sinfonia rather than the short movement which exists in the earliest manuscripts.

Jesus, sung by baritone, Istvan Gati, makes his first appearance on the Mount of Olives, in a recitative followed by a sequence of three arias. The moving 'Mein Vater, mein Vater' recurs, after a short recitative, as 'Ist's möglich', only the words changing, the music is identical. In 'Erwachet doch', Jesus's warning to the sleeping disciples is interrupted by their confused questions, making a striking arioso. In scenes like this, Handel's dramatic training is rarely far away and it become more understandable why the work has been presented dramatically on the stage. After Judas's betrayal of Christ, Peter (sung by one of the tenor soloists) curses him in a wonderfully dramatic aria that is unfortunately marred by the aspirates the singer uses in the runs. Happily, Peter redeems himself in his following two arias, both sung very movingly, especially the aria 'Heul, du Fluch!' with its lovely oboe obbligato.

Evangelist, Martin Klietmann, has an attractive, expressive voice and this can be most moving in his recitatives; unfortunately Handel gives him no arias. Instead, the Daughter of Zion, sung brilliantly by Maria Zadori, gets the lion’s share of the arias. She is one of the principal conduits of Brockes comment and meditation on the action as she constantly interrupts with arias. In a long work, she gets sixteen arias and ariosos in all, as well as a moving duet with Jesus.

Apart from the Evangelist, Jesus and the Daughter of Zion, the booklet fails to name which singer sings which part. Judas, interestingly, is played by a counter-tenor, who sings very stylishly, making you wish that Handel had given the character rather more to do. Caiaphas (presumably baritone Gunther Buzynski) is unfortunately rather blustery.

The third CD opens with the Daughter of Zion and the chorus singing 'Eilt, ihr angefochten Seelen', with its remarkable echoes of Bach's treatment of the same subject. The soprano singing Maria, Christ's mother, is unfortunately a bit squally and has a tendency to sing under the note, which is a shame as she gets a sublime duet with her son. In this final third of the work, the role of the Daughter of Zion is, to a certain extent, taken over by the Faithful Soul, another soprano role. Unfortunately she is a little tentative and has occasional tuning problems.

Christ's death is marked by a striking trio and afterwards, the role of the Faithful Soul passes to a baritone and a tenor soloist. The latter has an accompagnato which leads into the final part of the work where a pair of chorales come either side of a moving aria for the Daughter of Zion. The resulting scene makes a fine end to the work.

The young sounding chorus sings with a fine attack, but sometimes that can sound a little too vehement. Many of the choruses are quite short. The Brockes Passion was written well before Handel had started to develop his sophisticated use of the chorus, integrating it into the action in a way that is typical of the later oratorios.

There are some significant problems inherent in the libretto and it would require a freer treatment to resolve them. Many of the characters sing arias which are gathered together in groups. Peter's three arias and one arioso are grouped together and towards the end of the second CD, the Daughter of Zion has a remarkable sequence of six arias punctuated only by recitative and a chorus. You cannot help wondering what the later Handel, with his sophisticated treatment of soloists and chorus in the later oratorios, would have made of the text.

There is much lovely music here, but though Handel knew what was required his attention does wander and you can feel that his heart was not always in it. Being written in London, (where he was immersed in the opera and English church music) you feel a strong sense of distance.

The St. John Passion was long regarded as an early work by Handel, written in Hamburg in 1704. It had to be early, as there are few really Handelian fingerprints in the music. In the late 1960s though, musicologists started allocating it to Georg Böhm (1661-1733), a Thuringian-born composer who worked in Hamburg and Luneburg. He is remembered chiefly for his fine organ music and his influence on Bach. But the record booklet makes an interesting case for Handel's authorship, particularly as Handel's friend Mattheson was an advocate of the work.

It is a short piece (well, short for a passion, lasting some 60 minutes). It consists of rather short numbers, in a direct, simple style, generically late baroque rather than showing an specifically Handelian mannerisms. A number of the soloists are common to both recordings and here they make a fine case for the work, whoever it is by. It has a number of lovely moments including duets for two sopranos, two tenors and soprano and bass. Pilate plays quite a large role in the work and is strongly sung by Charles Brett.

Both these recordings make strong cases for the two passions. The Brockes Passion has been rather unfairly neglected and there are not too many versions in the catalogue. This one, whilst not always perfect, makes a fine introduction to the work.

Robert Hugill



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