BACH: St. Mark Passion – Dominique Horwitz, voice/ Amarcord/ Kölner Akademie/ Michael Alexander Willens, conductor – Carus 83.244, 73:15 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
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.
One of the things that a listener will notice is that there has been no attempt to compose music for the recitatives (no music exists) and that a speaker is used instead to simply read the texts. This is quite disconcerting in my opinion and begs the question as to whether this slaughtered torso even should be toyed with at all. But I suppose that as long as questions remain it will be too tempting to musicologists to ignore, and so here we go.
Aside from what sounds like dramatic readings between each movement, the music is very good—you will recognize much of it—and the performances are very good, the sound adding to the depth and quality of the experience. Soloists are fine, chorus is excellent, and the orchestra is first rate all the way. Despite my questions about the validity of any St. Mark Passion, I found the experience enjoyable, though I think I will probably retreat into the two genuine passions and the Funeral Ode when I am seeking pure Bachian pathos or want to hear the music in its original setting. Nevertheless, for those wishing to indulge in harmless speculation and to at least experience the text that Bach once—somehow—set, this can be recommended. There are not that many out there anyway, and this one easily sounds the best.
— Steven Ritter