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Reinhard KEISER (1674-1739)
Markuspassion (St. Mark Passion, early 1700s)
Thomas E. Bauer - Jesus (bass)
Jan Kobow – Evangelist (tenor)
Ensemble Jacques Moderne
Gli Incogniti/JoŽl Suhubiette and Amandine Beyer
rec. l’Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud, 2014. DDD
Texts and translations included.
Reviewed as lossless download from (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet)
MIRARE MIR254 [76:21]

Settings of the St. Mark Passion are less common than those of St. Matthew and St. John, perhaps because Mark’s gospel was believed to have been an abridgement of Matthew and Luke until scholarly research proved that it was the first of the synoptic gospels.† Also, like the St. Luke Passion, it was relegated to the weekdays of Holy Week.† Bach is believed to have composed a St. Mark Passion, but it’s lost, though attempts have been made to reconstruct it.† There’s a Carus recording, which Michael Cookson praised – review* – and a new version is due for release on Rondeau, though I haven’t been able to hear it.† What is known, however, is that Bach thought sufficiently highly of the Keiser setting to have performed it three times, in Weimar in 1713 – the basis for the edition employed here – and in Leipzig in 1726 and 1748.

Bach’s own settings were influenced by Keiser’s Markuspassion and his Brockes-Passion, which Ramťe have recorded (RAM1303 – review).† You’ll recognise the tune of O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden on track 23, set to the words Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden, as it also was by Bach in the Matthew Passion.† The alternation of arias and chorales with the gospel text will also be familiar from the Bach Passions.

There is just one other version of the Markuspassion in the current catalogue, on Christophorus, available as a download only in the UK.† It’s a decent performance, if not out of the top drawer – Download Roundup March 2012/2.† I haven’t done a detailed comparison with the new recording because I hope to get this review online in time for Holy Week, but the new recording is preferable and the work emerges from it more impressively than I remember.

Recent musicological research tends to suggest that the Markuspassion is not the work of Reinhard Keiser, essentially for stylistic reasons. However, it has not yet proved possible to attribute it positively to any other contemporary composer, such as Nicolaus Bruhns, or to Gottfried Keiser, Reinhard’s father, so its paternity is currently uncertain.

Nor can we be absolutely sure of the forces employed in Weimar in 1713 but they must have been, at the minimum, four singers, four strings, and a harpsichord.† Mirare have decided to assign the four voices of the chorus to three singers per part, with the soloists also taking part in the chorus, except for Jesus and the Evangelist. The two violins and two violas are joined by a continuo group consisting of organ, harpsichord, cello, violone, theorbo, and bassoon.

The two principal voices are very good and the Evangelist in particular has a strong sense of drama, though it’s never overdone.† The supporting voices are also well cast: if there’s a weak spot it’s David Erler who sings the alto arias and High Priest, but that reservation didn’t spoil my appreciation of the whole performance and in Was seh’ ich hier (track 21) and Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden (tr. 23) he redeems himself to a large extent.† Conversely I’d single out the soprano Anne MagouŽt in O Golgotha! (tr.19) and Seht, Menschenkinder (tr.24).† The chorus is smallish; nevertheless it packs the required power when the crowd cries Kreuziget ihn! (Crucify him!† tr.14).

For speed I downloaded the 16-bit version, which sounds very well, but there’s also a 24-bit for a little more, and I also sampled the mp3, which is also very good of its kind.† The booklet, which comes as part of the deal, contains informative notes in French, English and ‘Deutch’ together with texts and translations.

At $17.18 the download is not much less expensive than the CD, which you should be able to find for around £12.75, but the disc is not scheduled for release until 6 April 2015, three days too late for Good Friday, which is surely the right day on which to hear this recording.† The download is available now and fans of high-res sound will be prepared to pay a little more for it ($20.61).† All in all, lovers of the Bach Passions should appreciate this recording, which is preferable to the only rival version.

* stream/download it or the earlier Rondeau recording with the Hannoversche Hofkapelle from Qobuz.

Brian Wilson

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