BACH: St. Mark Passion, BWV 247 – Bell’arte Salzburg/ Cantorey St. Catharinen/ Andreas Fischer – MDG

by | Feb 19, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

BACH: St. Mark Passion, BWV 247 – Katherina Muller, soprano/ Jan Borner, alto/ Matthias Bleidorn, tenor/ Manfred Bittner, bass/ Richard Logiewa, Christus/ Bell’arte Salzburg/ Cantorey St. Catharinen/ Andreas Fischer – MDG Scene 2+2+2 multichannel SACD MDG 902 2104-6 (2 SACDs), 62:55, 68:18 ****:

This small statement by conductor and reconstruction composer Andreas Fischer in the notes says it all: “there was, and is, no scientifically proven possibility of bringing Bach’s Passion to a performable state – at least as long as new sources do not emerge.” And here is what I said in my review of the last attempt at this, in 2009 for a Carus release reconstructed by Andreas Glockner (and on this website): “All we know about BWV 247 for sure is that there are two complete texts that testify to the fact of its existence, the latest being discovered in St. Petersburg Russia in 2009 commemorating a performance in March of 1744 on Good Friday. Previously it was thought that the passion was not performed after 1731. The music was most likely of the parody type, garnished from existing Bach scores, most notably the Cantata BWV 198, his Funeral Ode. Bach added two arias to the 1744 performance, and a reconstruction was attempted in 1961, of which the present recording is a variant on that edition by Andreas Glockner. It is admittedly a work of ‘best guess’ reconstruction, but that is what the St. Mark Passion has always been and will always be until further light is shed—or the music shows up somewhere complete.”

Portait Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach

Okay, I admit that is a lot of personal plagiarism, but there isn’t a lot else that can be said for any attempt at putting together a work that Bach himself performed, yet, aside from the text itself (and his changes), we don’t have anything but speculative clues to go on. We do know that some of the music is among the most marvelous found in the Bach corpus—it was written after the St. Matthew Passion—and perhaps that makes it worthwhile, but nevertheless the attempts go on to cast it in a “relative” manner so that one may perceive more meaning in the piece, i.e., in a liturgical construct. Maybe. I must admit that I remain unconvinced, but this disc has attractions, mainly for the admission of sung recitatives (all genuine Bach), something the Carus release eschewed in favor of a narrator reciting the texts, which is not only unconvincing, but a little weird. The Carus has excellent singing, yet so does this one, and I can’t complain about hearing much of Bach’s familiar music even in a forged setting. So, the Carus will most likely go.

MDG’s sound is also a distinct plus, the Super Audio resonating finely as in all their releases. We will have to simply wait for another St. Petersburg miracle—maybe this time with music attached—before getting anything more realistic than what is given here.

—Steven Ritter

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