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MGB Records (Migros-Genossenschafts-Bund)

Ulrich GASSER (b.1950)
Vision Stephani - oder wie der heilige Stephanus zu Tode kam (1999-2000)
Bernhard Bichler (bar)
Claud Biegert (organ)
rec. 30 Sept 2000, Kirche St Stephan Konstanz. DDD


Gasser lives in Kreuzlingen, Swtzerland. He studied at Wintherthur Conservatory, the flute being his principal instrument. His composition tutor was Klaus Huber at Freiburg in Breisgau. He has been much associated with the Zürich branch of the ISCM and with the Artists' House, Boswil. His prize-winning works have been performed at Donaueschingen, Saarbrücken, Venice and Cassel.

The genesis of the present major work lies in the regal impression made on Gasser by the newly renovated organ of the Church of St Stephen. Gasser determined to write something for the instrument and only later decided to theme this around St Stephen. The work is starkly specified. The baritone, Gasser is at pains to point out, is not St Stephen but a commentator. The message has the listener examining his identification with the martyred Stephen as well as his (and our) guilty association with the crowd who helped stone him to death.

This is not a work of garish colour but one of a sombre Protestant intensity. Its heartland ranges from whispered awe (1.30 tr. 3) to a slowly imploring spiritual agony. The style is comparable with Franz Schmidt but just a step further towards dissonance. The organ part majors on the long-held note. There are memorable features such as tortured cry of the organ in Herr, du hast mich hörend gemacht. In the last of the eleven episodes (each tracked separately) the crowd who stoned Stephen are blinded by hate to his unaccusing face shining like an angel's.

The words, which are printed in full in German only, are drawn from Acts, Matthew and Psalm 77. There are notes in German, French and English as well as a useful synopsis. Gasser and Eva Tobler provide the notes.

Both organist and baritone are admirable advocates for this 20th (just) century Passion which is in some ways a modern counterpart to Haydn's Seven Last Words or to the more introspective parts of Schmidt's Book of the Seven Seals.

Rob Barnett


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