Frank Martin (a Swiss composer for anyone who has not heard the name before
- not an obscure Brit ) wrote this piece as a passionate liturgy for his
church. His approach was no doubt influenced by his religious upbringing
where his father was a missionary and the family was staunchly Protestant
and of Huguenot stock.
Martin has a clutch of vocal works to his name. These include a big song
cycle for soprano and orchestra (Rilke's Cornet), the unaccompanied
Mass (doing very well on Hyperion), the Requiem (available on Jecklin),
In Terra Pax conducted by Ansermet (Decca-London but long deleted?)
and the big cycle based on the Tristan and Isolde legend Le Vin Herbé
for twelve solo voices and an octet including piano (the latter recorded
on Jecklin although there is at least one new recording recently issued but
unheard by me).
This sprawlingly impressive and serious choral work was begun in 1945 and
completed in 1946. It is predominantly serious, written in a sombrely overcast
tone. Golgotha is big and of awkward length for the CD. It plays for
about 95 minutes in total. The two CDs used here are of approximately equal
length. The work follows the Calvary story using a web of Gospel recitative
and the meditations of St Augustine. The Bible texts are allocated among
the soloists and at climactic moments the choir joins in.
Golgotha was inspired by Rembrandt's etching 'The Three Crosses'. From this
germ of inspiration occurring as he was completing another choral masterpiece
In Terra Pax (to be heard in a classic 1960s recording by Ernest
Ansermet) grew the great structure of Golgotha.
The work (and this performance) is distinguished by resolute singing and
orchestral sturdiness. Track 3 offers a good example. There is a concentratedly
devotional tone but the work has some brighter episodes for contrast. Note
track 2 (disc 1) at 4:01 where the choir are lovingly counterpointed with
The earnest, devotional atmosphere is very powerful and not at all off-putting.
Listen also to the first 10 minutes of the second disc. The music is, on
the odd occasion, slightly dissonant but what commands the attention is its
lyricism. Martin's writing is perhaps comparable with a rather sombre Gerald
Finzi or a step onwards from Franz Schmidt's Book of the Seven Seals
(also reviewed this month).
Wilder apocalyptic visions are borne up in the great winds (Francesca
da Rimini recollections) of Part VII (Jesus before the Sanhedrim) which
dissipate to be replaced by a reverential prayer with chorus and female soloists
in Augustine's Meditation VII.
Track 3 of Disc 2 at 5:30 has a military tread with a distinct scent of blood
in the nostrils and this continues. Prokofiev rather nicely caught the same
atmosphere in his almost contemporaneous opera War And Peace. Of course Martin
would have had the Second World War very much in mind at the time of writing
this apocalyptic piece. Much of the piece is subdued and the Calvary section
on disc 2 almost too accurately summons up all the troubles of the world.
A dark night of the soul. The work ends in a dancing Finzian lightness with
an angelic rondel of the heavens as the complete forces are swept into the
golden exaltation of the Martin's Alpine heights.
I am not aware of any other recordings and this one is quite natural and
open in quality.
One curious fact for the collector of non-wobbly trifles: Stockhausen was
a pupil of Frank Martin.
Notes and text are in German only. This recording has taken a while to reach
the UK market having been made in 1988. In the UK Vengo discs are handled
by Priory Records.
Recommended if you are in the right mood. If I was exploring Martin's music
with the knowledge I have now I would start with the Requiem.