This would have to be one of the more bizarre CDs that I own.  Very briefly, the St Luke Passion refers to the two chapters in the Gospel of Luke that describe Christ’s trial and death.  When the composer J.S. Bach died, one of his musical manuscripts which survived was a setting of this passion for choir, orchestra and soloists.  Half of it was written in Bach’s handwriting, the other half in his son’s.

Now, most people are familiar with Bach’s St Matthew Passion and his St John Passion as being the only two surviving passions, and this one has long been argued to be written by someone else, but just copied out by Bach because he was interested in it.  So we don’t really know whether it was by Bach or not.

Anyway, this particular passion was picked up in the early part of the 20th century by the composer Carl Orff (most famous for his Carmina Burana).  He had the idea of cutting out most of the part of the piece that weren’t just straight recitative (the story parts).  So apart from a few choruses here and there, most of this is just the straight words of Scripture, with different singers taking each character.

But what makes this so different from the other two real passions of Bach is that Carl Orff’s idea was to add percussion and more orchestration to these recitative parts (which were normally only accompanied by a harpsichord and low strings) to beef them up and make them dramatic.  Sadly, Orff’s version was destroyed in a fire.

So enter Jan Jirasek in the early 90s, now the third composer to be involved.  He went along and completed the piece, in line with Orff’s idea.

So what you end up with a piece that sounds as if it should be Bach, but with all sorts of bizarre touches (mainly percussion) thrown in.  However, oddly enough, it works really well, and I think both Bach lovers and people who like things a bit more modern could happily live with both.

Most importantly, from a Christian point of view, nothing detracts from the story being told – if nothing else, it becomes more dramatic.

4 1/2 out of 5.

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