REINHARD KEISER: St. Mark Passion – Soloists/ Ens. Jacques Moderne/ Gli Incogniti/ Joel Suhubiette – Mirare

The St. Mark Passion we wish Bach had written.

REINHARD KEISER: St. Mark Passion (Bergmann Ed.) –Jan Kobow (Evangelist)/ Thomas E. Bauer (Jesus)/ Ens. Jacques Moderne/ Gli Incogniti/ Joel Suhubiette – Mirare MIR 254, 77 min. [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

It was the castle chapel at Weimar at Good Friday in 1712 or 1713 that saw the first performance of Keiser’s St. Mark Passion, most likely under the direction of JS Bach. Bach performed it again in 1726 at the church of St. Nicholas, making some minor changes, and in fact it is difficult, as so many liturgical works of the era by any composer, to establish a “definitive” version. Keiser was one of the most brilliant minds and masterly musicians of his age, universally recognized by composers like Bach, Telemann, Mattheson, Scheibe, and Hasse, the last who said that Keiser was “one of the greatest musicians the world saw.”

His career began with opera however, composing well over 70 (of which 2/3 are lost) and taking advantage of a form that was escalating in popularity. After training at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, writing his first operas for the court theater there, he advanced to Hamburg where he was appointed Kapellmeister of the city’s opera, moving on after a series of cities and adventures, to become the foremost opera composer of his time. When in 1728 he attained the position of music director at the Hamburg Cathedral, his style and intents changed, writing cantatas, passions, oratorios, and motets for the rest of his life, until his repose—supposedly in madness—at 65 in 1739.

One can only imagine that this passion set the tone for Bach, so consistently similar it is to Bach’s later ones. It’s almost the St. Mark Passion that you wish Bach had written. Keiser, ever the supreme lyricist due to his overwhelming experience in opera, is a master a setting the words of the gospel narrative to tremendous emotional effect. The performing forces are all expert and attentive, the sound crystalline and full of impact, making this a release of high quality.

—Steven Ritter

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