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GRAMOPHONE ( 06/ 2019)
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Reviewer: David Vickers

There are two printed sources of the St Mark Passion libretto but its music is completely lost. Since the 1870s successive generations of scholars have speculated that Bach probably parodied five numbers from the Trauer-Ode (Cantata No 198) and an aria from a Weimar-period alto cantata (No 54). A reconstruction by Alexander Grychtolik (published by Edition Peters) is the basis for Jordi Savall’s tweaked revision. Alia Vox’s lavish booklet includes a detailed summary of sources and adaptations for every number (its complex organisation takes a while to disentangle), glossy illustrations of printed sources of the libretto and photos of rehearsals in the Chapelle Royale at Versailles – where this live recording was made in March 2018.

The choir of 25 (including children on the upper parts) and Le Concert des Nations produce a vivid performance in which emotional directness is paramount. David Szigetvári is a capable Evangelist, although Konstantin Wolff’s gritty Christus is closer to a roaring Wotan than the compassionate redeemer of the world. Raffaele Pé has a few momentary fragilities but his full-bodied ‘Falsche Welt, dein schmeichelnd Küssen’ (adjusted from Cantata No 54) is characterised as a bitterly indignant response to Judas’s kiss, its fivepart strings played with cut and thrust. The waspishly driven strings in ‘Ich lasse dich, mein Jesus, nicht’ (from Cantata No 2) force Reinoud Van Mechelen to push uncomfortably; his expressive abilities are better served in ‘Mein Tröster ist nicht mehr bei mir’ (No 198), shaped beautifully by two flautists in pensive dialogue with oboe, viols and pizzicato bass. Marta Mathéu’s crisp dialogue with Manfredo Kraemer’s obbligato violin in ‘Angenehmes Mordgeschrei!’ is delightful – although Savall’s choice of cheerful quick music that Bach used in two guises to celebrate the name day of a university professor (Cantata No 205) or New Year’s Day (No 171) seems like an incongruous response to the mob baying for Christ’s crucifixion. On the other hand, Savall’s idea to follow Christ’s death with a turbulent aria for tenor, jagged basso continuo, plaintive flute and soprano chorale melody altered from the 1725 version of the St John Passion is an aptly anguished response that also anticipates the rending of the temple.

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