Keiser The Passion According to St Mark
Compared with Bach, Keiser's Passion can seem small-scale, matter-of-fact and undeveloped (how much we take for granted), though it is as well to remember that for all Keiser's operatic and worldly experience his music intentionally recalls, in spirit at least, something of the direct and austere narrative akin to Schutz's St Matthew Passion (such as the opening and final choruses). That said, there are detailed traits which are most Bach-like: a string accompanied Christus, reflective da capo arias, dramatic crowd involvement and a resourceful use of the chorale melody in several manifestations. More specifically, Keiser has a wonderfully Bachian habit of subtle harmonic colouring at well-chosen moments; some of those inimitably poignant and potent shadings in Bach's passions are foreshadowed here.
This is the second reading of Keiser's St Mark Passion. The first appeared in 1971 conducted by the versatile keyboard player, Jurg Ewald Dahler. Reappraisal on period instruments, if not exactly overdue, does much to sharpen the contours of this distinctive hour-long oratorio. Christian Brembeck is a sympathetic director and his young group of musicians serve him well. Hartmut Elbert is an authoritative, if slightly blustering Jesus with a number of sections with rough edges which clearly should have been re-taken (the strings have been allowed to get away with too much as well). None of the other solo contributions stand out especially, though that perhaps has much to do with the nature of the work where soloists emerge from the ripieno regularly. The exception is the Evangelist, Bernhard Hirtreiter, whose expressive and musical delivery is admirable throughout. Undoubtedly, this is something of a specialists' release, though this piece is significantly better than stock Kleinmeister fare; those who love German baroque vocal music and/or are interested in Bach's close contemporaries and musical heritage will not be disappointed.'