This is an important
document, not least because what is
actually captured on these discs is
the first performance of this work since
1772. The score is presently housed
in the archive of the Berlin Sing-Akademie
after its discovery in the Ukraine.
C.P.E.’s version of the Christ story
is a dynamic one, with plenty of drama
and much interaction between the various
soloists and the chorus - a chorus that
represents the Jews as well as performing
C.P.E. has, perhaps
rightly, accrued a reputation as being
somewhat eccentric, an impression surely
gleaned from some of his keyboard works
in particular. In the present instance
that aspect of his persona is not particularly
pronounced although some distinctly
jerky lines in the strings in the work’s
first aria, track 9, for contralto,
‘Liebster Hand! Ich küsse dich’,
remind us just who the composer is.
What is in evidence, though, is a remarkably
wide expressive vocabulary that he uses
at all times appropriately to the situation.
sees C.P.E. indulging in ‘parody’ (i.e.
using other composers’ music for his
own ends - there was no copyright then,
remember). Certainly his model appears
to be Telemann’s Johannes-Passion.
C.P.E. also turned to a Passion by Gottfried
Heinrich Stölzel for four of the
arias and duets, plus the occasional
nod towards his father, J.S. As the
booklet notes put it, ‘So far as is
known, the two arias ‘Verkennt ihn nicht’
and ‘So freiwillig, ohne Klage’ are
the only parts actually composed by
Carl Philipp Emanuel himself’!
What matters, of course,
is the end result. The devotional chorale
that sets the work on its path, ‘Erforsche
mich, erfahr mein Herz’ (‘Examine me,
prove my heart’) determines the tone.
In performance terms, it is true we
are not dealing with the Bach-Collegium
Japan here, but this is still carefully
shaped and balanced singing. These traits
are to characterise the choral contributions
throughout, right up to the final chorus
(‘Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine’;
‘Rest well, ye holy bones’) and the
finale Chorale (‘Darum woll’n wir loben’;
‘So let us praise’). As protagonists
(as the Jews, mentioned above), the
choir seems to relish its involvement
in the action.
The Evangelist on this
occasion is Icelandic tenor Gunnar Gudbjörnsson
(since 1999 on the payroll of the Deutsche
Oper, Berlin, and Walther in Barenboim’s
Teldec Tannhäuser). His
voice is pleasing (and nicely suited
to this repertoire, on this hearing),
his diction excellent and he provides
a real highlight of the set in his aria
on the subject of Christ’s noble bearing
of suffering (CD2, track 2). At a smidgen
under ten minutes, this aria represents
the longest single movement of the entire
Jochen Kupfer is a
fairly well-known name (listed here
as a bass), having recorded with Sinopoli
(Friedenstag) amongst others
(even Suzuki on the BIS cycle of Bach
Cantatas). He certainly carries authority
as the Saviour, and his aria, ‘Verkennt
ihn nicht, den Gott der Götter’
(‘Do not misjudge him, God of Gods’,
CD 1 track 19) is a gem (and how the
orchestra digs in here, full of life).
The arias really do seem to be the highlights
of this work.
Soprano Elisabeth Scholl
has a pure voice and is eloquent except
when her voice hits the higher reaches,
where she can become shrill. This can
be heard in her extremely sad aria,
‘Unbeflektes Gotteslamm!’ ‘(Unspotted
Lamb of God!’, CD 1 track 23), an aria
lifted to the heights by the miraculously
intertwining violin parts. Alexandra
Patersamer has a rich contralto voice
that graces ‘Liebste Hand! Ich küsse
dich’ (‘Dearest hand! I kiss thee’),
leaving one wishing this aria is longer
than its 5’41 duration.
The weakest of the
soloists comes in the form of Maximilian
Schmidt’s rather tremulous Pilatus.
the music on the second disc is marred
by too long a stretch of recitative,
so that the chorus ‘Oh, ein grosser
Todesfall!’ (‘O, a great occasion of
death!’) comes as a welcome event. This
chorus actually represents a touching
meditation on Jesus’ death.
The whole seems admirable
paced and balanced orchestrally by Joshard
Daus (apparently a Celibidache disciple).
The greatest compliment I can pay this
performance is that the standard is
so high it is difficult to believe it
is taken down live. Only the undeniable
concentration from first note to last
attests to this.
If you are even vaguely
curious, I do recommend you hear this
work. It contains moments of great beauty
as well as operating on a real dramatic
trajectory which only serves to emphasise
its moments of repose.