Stefan Parkman

Ernst Pepping: Passionsbericht des Matthäus

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Ernst Pepping was once hot stuff, with conductors of Furtwängler's ilk recording his works. Indeed, there remains a famous 1943 recording of Pepping's Second Symphony with Furtwängler leading the Berliner Philharmoniker that has been reissued on a variety of labels. The conservative German modernist's star has sunk since then, however, and there are barely a handful of his works in print on CD. Pepping's Passion According to St. Matthew, for example, received over 500 performance in the first five years after its premiere, but this recording with Stefan Parkman leading the Rundfunkchor Berlin from 2007 is only the second of the digital age -- and the first was from 1991. Perhaps its stern tonality and severe expressivity explain the work's drop in popular standing. There's no atonality and very little chromaticism here; in fact, strictly speaking, there's hardly any counterpoint at all and next to no melody. There are expressive unison declamations that sometimes branch out into thirds or fourths that give the music an antique, even prehistoric feel, as if it wasn't written by a twentieth century German but by a fourth century Byzantine composer, albeit a fourth century composer singularly lacking in adventurousness, and, some might say, musical interest. In truth, there isn't much going on in Pepping's Passion. The storyline is observed but the spiritual drama is largely absent and the musical activity is fairly minimal, without, one hastens to add, granting the music the hypnotic repetition of minimalism. Though the Rundfunkchor Berlin is passionately invested in the music and Parkman sounds committed to giving the work the best possible performance, and this super audio digital recording is even lusher than the earlier pure digital recording, the work itself may prove of interest only to listeners with a bottomless appetite for postwar German music.

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