Have you ever wondered
what or who is the missing link between the Passions of J.S.
Bach and the more ‘enlightened’ oratorios of Josef Haydn and
his contemporaries? For that matter how did things come to change
so quickly? I have recently reviewed some cantatas by Gottfried
Homilius (1714-1785) on Carus 83.183 and he is certainly a link.
But really it is C.P.E. Bach, that great reactionary and under-estimated
genius, who is ‘yer man’.
This recording is
a result of several years of reconstruction work and then a
full performance which took place on Palm Sunday in 2003 after
about 220 years of neglect.
Perhaps you know
the somewhat eccentric symphonies of C.P.E. or possibly the
wild solo piano works, or as we are increasingly discovering,
the original and fantastical harpsichord concertos. If you do,
prepare for a surprise because this piece is completely different.
This is classicism fully formed and ready to taste.
The Capriccio booklet
comes with two translated essays - also the full text in three
translations. These are written by Dr. Ulrich Leisinger and
Ute Scholz-Lawrence. The latter’s essay explains how the C.P.E.
work is related to other Passion settings especially those by
J.S. Bach. C.P.E. had been interested in the J.S. Passions during
his later Dresden years. There are also links with C.P.E.’s
three earlier settings. He had made these years before in Hamburg
where, it has always been thought, his church music composing
career had been more perspiration rather inspiration.
One might call this
St Matthew Passion (to mis-quote Stravinsky) a ‘Pocket-Passion’.
You get the full story in less than an hour. No aria is overly
long - and there are some da capo arias. The recits, in this
performance anyway, zip along fluently. The choral work never
drags and the story is dramatically told.
C.P.E. starts after
an opening chorale, at Gethsemane and ends straight after Christ’s
death. His text uses the pattern established by his father.
That is recitatives telling the story with dialogue sung by
differing characters where necessary. There are hymns for the
choir and congregations to join in with, other choral interjections
for the choir alone and solo arias which reflect on the story
line. The latter show more personal and typically emotional
signs of ‘the enlightenment’ period with lines like “A holy
pain cuts through my heart, / and. Lord, what can I say? / I
can only, deeply moved, strike my bosom”.
The music comes
from various sources and inspirations. I have already mentioned
C.P.E.’s earlier Passions. These have been to a certain extent
refashioned. Secondly he uses chorale melodies found in his
father’s work which may be re-harmonized especially in the alto
and tenor parts. Thirdly he uses his father’s actual music in
choruses and chorales. The effect is rather like walking into
a late Gothic church which has been ornamented and slightly
rebuilt in the classical style. It comes as a surprise suddenly
to hear a chorus straight out of J.S.’s ‘Matthew Passion’ like
‘Warlich, du bist auch einer von denen’(Surely you are one of
his disciples). The effect is immediately mitigated by a ravishing,
somewhat operatic aria like ‘Ob Erd un Himmel untergehen’ here
sung movingly by tenor Thomas Dewald. And this brings me neatly
to the performance in general.
Quite often with
a disc like this there is one soloist who does not quite hit
the mark; here I cannot say that. Some of the cameo roles -
like Pontius Pilate and his wife or Judas and Peter - taken
by un-named singers are somewhat badly-cast and strained. However
the main voices are all very convincing and as with Daniel Jordan
they are in top form.
The chorus work
is precise, passionate and well balanced. The slightly recessed
orchestra is un-flagging in their response to Joshard Daus’s
often brisk tempi
It would be unfair
to complain about the live recording which does nothing to damage
or to especially enhance the music. For myself I would have
preferred a church acoustic but in fairness the audience noise
As the C.P.E. Bach
catalogue grows this is no doubt a useful addition. For myself
I probably will not listen to it that often as ultimately its
hybrid-nature and somewhat fitful inspiration does not especially
excite me. Full credit though to the performers and editor whose
efforts are not in vain and who deserve rich applause for their
handiwork and dedication.
see also Review
by Johan van Veen