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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
St Mark Passion (1786)
Claudia Barainsky (soprano)
Maria Soulis (alto)
Bart Driessen (bass) – High Priest, Second False Witness, a Jew
Thomas Dewald – Evangelist
Ulf Bastlein – Jesus
Daniel Sans – Peter, Pilate, First False Witness
Simon Berg – Judas
Stefanie Dasch – servant
Europa Chor Akademie
Mendelssohn Sinfonia/Joshard Daus
rec. live, Die Glocke, Grosser Saal, Bremen, April 2006 
CAPRICCIO 60132 [54:33]

C.P.E Bach moved to Hamburg in 1768 and was asked to perform the prevailingly popular “Old School” passions in the city’s churches. Bach himself hadn’t been sure whether Hamburg preferred passions “in the historical and old fashion with the Evangelist” as he wrote in an anxious letter to Georg Michael Telemann “or in the fashion of an oratorio.” The answer was the former; the latter, the more modern way, involved contemporary texts.
The St. Mark Passion was to be performed every four years and versions exist from 1774, 1778, 1782 and 1786, the version heard here. They are all based on Homilius’s St Mark’s Passion in the abbreviated version C.P.E Bach had performed in Hamburg in 1770. Adaptations invariably followed with duets and choruses differing from one version to the next. By the 1786 revision all the “free” (non biblical) movements were Bach’s own work, albeit a number were reworkings of his own songs.
The work is in essence therefore a pasticcio, grounded on Homilius’s long accepted plan. Bach added variety to the succeeding settings though in essence much was static, the new arias and choruses creating the impression of a newly composed work. It was an effective and practical piece of self-poaching and enabled Bach to refashion the work with a minimum of musical expenditure.
And it is very securely in the old style. The song melodies are in effect songs-with-orchestra and that’s true of the newly composed arias as well, Bach rigidly apportioning the arias to the old established schema. Bach tended here to jettison the Baroque aria and embrace what Uwe Wolf calls in his booklet notes calls “folk-like melodies.” Here therefore the “free” parts are Bach’s own and the non-biblical texts taken from works of Christoph Christian Sturm, a generation younger than Bach but who died in the year that the St Mark Passion was written.
The performance is a world premiere recording of the 1786 Passion. The choruses are finely marshalled and controlled, and solo contributions though variable are thoughtful and musical. Mezzo Maria Soulis has a grave and perceptive approach to the texts – her aria Nein, ich fliehe nicht dein Kreuz is finely nuanced though her vibrato has a tendency to widen too much. Sometimes C.P.E Bach will surprise us, as he does with the unusually brisk and cheerful chorus Von Ewigkeit warst du bestimmt. An example of Bach’s instrumental flair comes in the aria [No.9] Durchdenk ich meines Heilands Leben where we find the wind writing very personable and more to the point strongly to the fore.
There is a technical peculiarity. At various points voices come out of one channel only. This happens particularly in the concerted voice section of the recitative Einer aber von denen [No.12] and in the solo aria [No.41] Furchtbar blickst du auf ihn nieder.
Essentially aria-less in conventional baroque terms the Passion may strike one now perhaps as too desiccated and plain but it is revealing of contemporary taste in Hamburg as to prevailing musical and liturgical orthodoxies, as to the adaptability of the form and the means and measures taken by composers such as C.P.E Bach to circumvent, expand or otherwise utilise it.
Jonathan Woolf


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