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Sergio RENDINE (b. 1954)
Passio et Resurrectio (2000) [58:11]
Sung in Italian and Latin
Nando Citarella (voice in Orologio della Passione)
Damiana Pinti (mezzo soprano)
Emanuela Loffredo and Elio Tacconelli (folk voices)
Lucilla Galeazzi (soprano)
Pierpaolo Pecoriello (saxophone)
Gabriele Di Iorio (flute)
Maurizio Trippitelli (percussion)
Chorus and orchestra of the Marrucino Theatre, Chieti/Marzio Conti
Rec. Cathedral of San Giustino, Chieti, Italy, April 2003, DDD
NAXOS 21st CENTURY CLASSICS 8.557733 [58:11]

A disc that delivers decidedly mixed results. This Easter cantata is an odd amalgam of styles that just about comes off in this committed performance. Rendine is something of a musical sponge. There are many influences at play in this piece: traditional hymns and church music, folk song, jazz, pop, musical theatre and (of course) the great oratorios and cantatas of the past. Interestingly, the music does not really sound Italian, although there is something of the Respighi of Belkis, Queen of Sheba about some of the orchestral colouring.

The first part of the cantata, Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, opens somewhere between Orff's Carmina Burana and the Dies Irae of Verdi's Requiem, with a portentous chorus and a foreboding-heavy orchestra of considerable size. The chorus builds to a climax and then slumps and slurs away to be replaced by Nando Citarella's "voice in Orologio della Passione". His "voice" is in fact a high baritone, but is not billed as one because he does not sing a classical line. Rather, he belts out the simple tune of his verses in a style between musical theatre and rock, and whoops and groans to colour his performance. On first hearing, I found this quite effective. Citarella seemed to capture the quality of a Roman soldier commenting on Christ's trudge to Calvary. His song, with heavy percussion and the flute doubling the vocal melody, has an eastern tinge and a fair bit of menace, but is not really developed, only repeated and ratcheted up a key a few times to increase the tension. The short melody also appears again later in the work (for example, in track 5), and after a few listenings I quite wearied of Citarella and his tune. He is also very difficult to follow in the text, as his dialect and delivery make it difficult to discern which lyric he is singing at any particular time. This will not trouble all listeners, but did annoy me.

There is much here that is effective, though. The miniature flute concerto that serves as a Stabat Mater is quite lovely. For me, it is these semi-mystical passages that work best. Track 2 is another case in point. Here the spare scoring combines with the resonant acoustic of the church to create a moving atmosphere that underscores the speaker's poignant delivery beautifully. In other places the acoustic lets the recording down. The soloists (and the speaker in particular) are spot-lit by the microphone placement, and the resonance of the church clouds the orchestral tuttis.

The second part of the cantata, Resurrectio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, consists of music harvested from Rendine's earlier Missa pro pace and Missa de Beatificatione in onore di Padre Pio. This music has a celebratory energy, but again is structurally weak.

The performances are committed. The orchestra is decent, if not fabulous, and while the music does plod a little in places, its simplicity can be disarming. The saxophonist is excellent and the singers give what they have. The soprano, who carries the finale, sounds like she is in a Lloyd Webber musical, both in her melodic line and in her Broadway belt delivery. Honestly, none of the singers would be on my short list for any opera production, but Rendine has deliberately chosen non-operatic voices and they do what he wants them to. They give the piece a common touch.

Overall, this disc is a curiosity and is well worth hearing. I really enjoyed my first acquaintance with it and, as so often, Naxos deserves the gratitude of music lovers for making it available. Whether it repays repeated listening, I am not so sure. I certainly found that my initial enthusiasm cooled each time I played the disc, although I do still admire the quieter passages.

It is also debatable that Passio et Resurrectio deserves to be called a "21st Century Classic". After all, it was first performed in the last year of the 20th Century after a gestation of some twenty years. Whether or not it is a "classic" will be for time to decide. The piece has already received a number of performances since its premiere and has a potential advocate on the international stage in Gianluigi Gelmetti, friend of the composer and current chief conductor of both the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma. Whatever my reservations, Passio et Resurrectio is certainly infectious and sounds like it is fun to perform.

Tim Perry


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