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Though Künstel seems a remote and shadowy figure now – dating somewhere around 1645 to 1695 – his St Mark Passion was once regularly performed as a sequence over morning and evening Holy Thursday services and Good Friday’s vigil. This may account for its deceptively straightforward and almost functional feel, with recitatives and arias interspersed with string, organ and cimbalom passages. In fact, it’s a tightly organised Gospel drama with an insistent musical structure that easily sustains a two-hour-plus duration, even on CD. Polyharmonique resist any temptation to make it more operatic, and leader Alexander Schneider (who is listed as primum inter pares) allows the music to speak patiently for itself. What emerges is a surprisingly compelling and quietly moving work that perfectly reflects the humanist undercurrents and emphasis on action in the first Gospel.

BRIAN MORTON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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