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C.P.E. Bach: Markus-Passion / Beat Raaflaub, Basel Boys Choir

Release Date: 08/25/2009 
Label:  Ars Musici   Catalog #: 232181   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
Performer:  Rainer PachnerDorothee LabuschGerd TürkPeter Sigrist,   ... 
Conductor:  Beat Raaflaub
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Basel Boys ChoirEnsemble Ad Fontes
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 53 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

C. P. E. BACH Markus-Passion (spurious) Beat Raaflaub, cond; Martina Bovet (sop); Dorothea Labusch (alt); Gerd Türk (ten); Peter Sigrist (ten); Rainer Pachner (bs); René Koch (bs); Basel Boys’ Ch; Ens Ad Fontes ARS MUSICI 232181 (2 CDs: 112:36 Text and Translation)

When it came to writing Passions, C. P. E. Bach was certainly far more prolific than his father, whose St. Matthew Read more Passion is by far and away the model against which all others are currently measured. He wrote 21 of these, or rather, he wrote bits and pieces of each one, the rest of which was cobbled together from works by his contemporaries and even his father. These were apparently required for the Easter season in Hamburg, and even his predecessor, Telemann, was obligated to write copious numbers of Passions as part of his employment in that city. When this recording was made in 1994, the only surviving work seemed to be a St. Mark Passion that existed in a score in Cologne, which was remarkable in that it seemed to be an original independent work that belied the knowledge that Bach had in fact written his Passions as pastiches. Eugene Helm, however, found even then that it lacked any real affinity with Bach, relegating it to the spurious compositions. Since that time, the former Singakademie Library from Berlin turned up in Kiev (and was repatriated), in which were found a substantial number of the lost Passions, and research published in 1995 found that the most likely composer was Johann Georg Röllig, Kapellmeister in Zerbst. Why in this release 15 years later these facts were not mentioned or the record corrected is unfathomable; indeed, the notes seem largely derived from those done for the first recording of the work by Helmuth Rilling in 1986 with the Gächinger Kantorei (CBS Records). Perhaps Röllig is a name that the company felt would not sell?

In any case, one should ignore the obvious comparisons that link it with J. S. Bach’s settings, given that there is no connection now at all. What is left is a lengthy traditional work that combines choral commentary with readings from the Gospels and the occasional allegorical solo number. The opening chorus “Gehet heraus” is a spritely gigue, almost a dance, with prominent horns and woodwinds, something that would have been inappropriate in the Baroque period for a Passion. Elsewhere, the chorus appears as the turba or the commentary in homophonic chorales, though there is a very nice bit of complex counterpoint in the second part chorus “Wachet auf,” and of course it all ends with a nice full orchestral wrap-up. The narrations of the Evangelist are often perfunctory but sometime with some nice accompaniment, as are the words sung by Jesus. The arias and the one duet in the fourth part are all lengthy da capos , in which one finds good solid orchestration, a wide rhythmic variety, and lines that have a subdued amount of virtuosity. Oddly enough, Röllig begins his fourth part, the wild crowd screaming for Christ’s blood, with a lovely major-key Sinfonia that seems more appropriate for the concert hall than a Passion. Moreover, even though he includes the final last words on the cross and even mentions the earthquake, it is done in dry recitative, which is hardly dramatic.

Raaflaub’s interpretation is quite fine. He takes a score that has long sections of dialogue of no real substance and gives each an appropriate nuance, lengthening or slowing the tempos as needed to support the text. His phrasing in the arias is likewise sensitive, and he insures that the entire ensemble is clear and in tune. He also keeps the textures light, allowing some of the inner voices, such as in the aria “Schrecklich harter Ausdruck,” to come out. This contrasts with Rillings more conventional and hurried tempos and the loud, often unfocused sound of chorus and orchestra. The exception is in the recitatives, where Rilling often drags lugubriously, while Raaflaub chooses more expression. The soloists are all quite good, although the Evangelist, Gerd Türk, could be a bit more decisive in places. The voices are light enough to complement the orchestra, and I like the blend. Again, my only real objection with this is its continued association with C. P. E. Bach. Even if the recording itself is older, someone should have been up to date on the scholarship. Still, if you are passionate about Passions, file it under Röllig and enjoy it.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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Works on This Recording

St. Mark Passion, H 799 by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
Performer:  Rainer Pachner (Bass), Dorothee Labusch (Alto), Gerd Türk (Tenor),
Peter Sigrist (Tenor), René Koch (Bass), Martina Bovet (Soprano)
Conductor:  Beat Raaflaub
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Basel Boys Choir,  Ensemble Ad Fontes
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1785; Hamburg, Germany 

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