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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A NEGLECTED MASTERPIECE, 4 May 2005
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DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Brockes-Passion (DG The Originals) (Audio CD)
Handel was past 30 when he composed this German Passion to a text by his university friend Barthold Heinrich Brockes. It is therefore not an 'early' work in terms of his precocious development. It is also a great work, if not the equal of Bach's St Matthew Passion or of Handel's own most advanced efforts. It shows his style in transition. Ten years or so previously he had composed a Dixit Dominus in a strongly German manner reminiscent in some ways of Bach, and Bach was to keep composing in this idiom to the very end. Even in such an early piece Handel was already showing an interest in dramatic effects that were alien to Bach, and they are prominent in the later stages of the narrative here, particularly in the 'turbae' or crowd-choruses one of which even suggests to me an early foreshadowing of the great 'He trusted in God' from Messiah. With the increase in drama comes a perceptible change in idiom from the semi-Bachian introversion of the early numbers to a style that marks the change to Handel's new 'English' way of expressing himself.

A lot of the fascination of the Brockes Passion for me is in its suggestion of how Handel might have developed had he not moved to London. It would be quite possible to mistake a good many of the earlier solos in the Brockes Passion for Bach, in tone as well as in style, although even here the treatment of the vocal lines has a naturalness that Bach's instrumentally-influenced vocal style rarely has. The text strikes me as a very good one, so far as my rather laboured German enables me to judge. There is great variety - solos, duets, a trio, secco recitative, accompagnato, ariosos, arias, choruses - among the numbers, and the role of the evangelist is much less than in the Bach Passions. Christ himself has recitatives, accompagnatos and arias, and there is even a duet between Christ and his mother, and a very powerful one too. Christ's final words 'Eli, lama...' are given to the evangelist, not directly to Christ himself, but Handel's musical phrase is one that at least stands comparison with that in the St Matthew Passion. However there is one distinct oddity in the words as edited here. In the very first number part of the text is printed in italics with an asterisk, and there are numerous italicised phrases, although no more asterisks, throughout. You will find the explanation of this asterisk (in German only) 56 pages later, right at the end. For some reason it was felt advantageous to bring the baroque idiom more into line with modern taste, we are told, although without altering anything of significance, or so we are assured. I don't recall this being done in the Bach cantatas anywhere, and it is not done in the text of my disc (Dorothea Roeschmann) of the 9 German arias by this same Brockes that Handel set years later, so I am slightly baffled about what is going on.

This 3-disc set gets 5 stars from me with a bit of latitude. The performance dates from 1967, and the liner-note explains, in a slightly pained and defensive way, that ideas of period style were a little different then. The instruments do not sound to be period instruments, and the vocal style is of a fairly modern kind. What the general approach reminds me of is Muenchinger's once-famous and still-great St Matthew Passion. As in that, the glory of the set is the solo singing, which I see received enthusiastic praise in its day, and its sheer quality is far more important to me than stylistic niceties. The direction seems fine to me in general, although a few of the arias are too slow, a holdover from less enlightened times. The recording is perfectly adequate if nothing to write home about. I found the voices too close-to now and again, but this was an intermittent fault and a little manipulation of the settings soon sorted it out to my own satisfaction at least. The liner note by Stefan Siegert and the English translation by Richard Evidon are perfectly good, and the German text is also given in English and French.

This is an important masterpiece that it seems to me all Handelians should know. Times have changed and it may be that the Brockes Passion is getting more performances than it used to get. I shall certainly be looking out for it now and I think it's a work that aficionados of the Bach Passions might like to add to their collections.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review, 15 Feb 2010
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This review is from: Brockes-Passion (DG The Originals) (Audio CD)
A good example of a rarely performed work. Recording quality and the style of the performance show the age of the recording. Interesting musically, you can hear many themes used later in the Messiah and other works.
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Brockes-Passion  (DG The Originals)
Brockes-Passion (DG The Originals) by G.F. Handel (Audio CD - 2001)
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