Georg Friedrich Händel: Johannes-Passion (CPO)
★★ (out of five)
Did you know Handel wrote a St John’s Passion? Me, neither, and I’m still not convinced.
This score was discovered in the Berlin Royal Library in the mid-19th-century by the authoritative Friedrich Chrysander and included in the even more authoritative Halle Handel Edition. But there have always been doubts about dates and style. The credited librettist, Christian Heinrich Postel, died of consumption in Hamburg in 1705, when Handel was 20. Handel knew Postel’s work and may have asked for a text, but Postel worked mostly for Telemann and if he found time at all for Handel it would have been only with offcuts.
Handel never referred again to this score and it doesn’t sound anything like his first opera, Almira, which was staged that selfsame year. Handel was writing in Italian mode and this music is as German as it gets.
And dull with it. There’s an occasional wistful violin solo and soprano aria, but the genius of Handel — his gift for rocket-boosting the mundane into the sublime — is absent. Roland Wilson and the Capella Ducale do their damnedest to get liftoff, but there’s only one St John’s Passion and it belongs to the cantor of Leipzig. This is tepid stuff.