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Bach-lovers who wish to get some idea of the lost St. Mark Passion can be heartily recommended to this new recording above all the other versions. Unlike editions which draw on music of Bach's contemporary Reinhard Keiser or Ton Koopman's admittedly fascinating personal version, including his own pastiche of Bach in the Evangelist's part, the present CD presents only the music of Bach that can plausibly be assigned to the St. Mark Passion of 1731, with virtual certainty in the case of the five excerpts from the Funeral Ode of 1727. These pieces do much to give the work its special quality of gentle intimacy - music of deep and moving consolation. a very personal response by Bach to the Passion story which makes the St. Mark setting somewhat different from his other two surviving Passions. To provide a context for the musical items they are set here within a spoken narration in German of the relevant parts of St. Mark's Gospel, chapters 14 and 15. Andor Gomme, whose edition used music by Keiser, calls this 'a counsel of despair,' but to me it is a good practical solution to the problem of giving some idea of the original work, since one can at least hear in sequence the events and stages of the Passion story to which the various musical items are responding. (Gomme has to depart from the sequence and displaces arias in unsatisfactory ways). Furthermore the music is very well performed here, especially so in the instrumental parts. For my taste tempi are not always well chosen - the two sublime alto arias are surely too fast, but how good to hear them sung by a real contralto instead of the now ubiquitous counter-tenor. We shall probably never know the St. Mark Passion as Bach wrote it, but this may be as good an approximation as we can get - and in view of the superb quality of the work that is something for which to be enormously grateful.
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