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Aulis SALLINEN (b. 1935)
Barabbas Dialogues Op.84 (2002/3)
Petteri Salomaa (baritone, Barrabas); Riikka Rantanen (mezzo-soprano, The Woman); Juha Kotilainen (bass-baritone, Judas); Mari Palo (soprano, The Maiden); Topi Lehtipuu (tenor, The Youth); Kalle Holmberg (narrator); Mika Väyrynen (accordion); Elina Vähälä (violin); Arto Noras (cello); Ilpo Mansnerus (flute); Michael Lethiec (clarinet); Ari-Pekka Mäenpää (percussion); Ralf Gothoni (piano and conductor)
rec. Naantali Music Festival, June 2004
CPO 777 077-2 [56:34]

"Dialogue means conversation as a verbal exchange, but here it also suggests an exchange of influence, an idea which seemed appropriate for a work dealing with world order". Thus the composer in his notes for the present recording of one of his most recent works. True to say that the different "characters" rarely exchange ideas, with the notable exception of The Maiden and The Youth in the fifth dialogue Pas de Deux. They tend to confront their perception of things and feelings. Barabbas Dialogues is set for narrator, five singers and a small ensemble of seven players including an important, though unobtrusive part for accordion. The work draws on various literary sources, although a good deal of the text is derived from Lassi Nummiís long poem Breathing in the Night. The other texts are drawn from The Acts of the Apostles, The Book of Job, Mark, Luke, The Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, another poem by Nummi (Requiem) as well as words added by the composer. The various "characters" have been given carefully chosen words. Thus, Barabbas and The Woman sing words from Nummiís poem, Judas passages from The Book of Job, The Maiden and The Youth excerpts from The Song of Songs. The narrator (One of the Twelve) generally speaks words from The Acts of the Apostles and from the Gospels. Each character is thus clearly characterised by the words that he/she sings, rather than by the music to which each of them sings. The variety of the literary sources also reflects the composerís deeply human concerns and sympathy for the different characters. Barabbas, about whom very little is actually known, never failed to intrigue and fire the imagination. From this point of view, I believe that Michel de Ghelderodeís magnificent play is exemplary: it gives flesh to someone witnessing Christís passion from a quite different point of view realising that it is he who should have been crucified. Mary Magdalene clearly stands on Barabbasís side, and so does The Woman in Sallinenís piece. Similarly, Sallinen never condemns Judas for his betrayal. "The fact that he was designated a traitor by prophecy could make him one of the most tragic martyrs of world history" (Aulis Sallinen). Such humane concerns are not rare in Sallinenís oeuvre - just think of the compassion he feels for the poor people in his opera The Red Line.

The variety of the literary sources is also further emphasised in the different dialogues. The first dialogue (Nocturne) is shared by Barabbas and The Woman (words from Nummiís poem Breathing in the Night). The next three dialogues, subtitled Easter I, II and III respectively, have Judas (words from The Book of Job) and Barabbas (words from Nummiís poem and by Sallinen), in dialogue with One of the Twelve (words from The Acts dealing with Christís Passion). Dialogue 5 (Pas de Deux) has the only real dialogue in the whole work in which The Maiden and The Youth express their mutual love with words from The Song of Songs. Dialogue 6 (subtitled Passacaglia) contrasts the down-to-earth reality of Barabbas and The Woman with the youthful confidence of The Maiden and The Youth. Only in Dialogue 7 are all characters present. Dialogue 7 is also the only place where there is an attempt at finding an answer to the many questions raised earlier in the piece. The answer may ultimately lie in the words: "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, it is within you" (my emphasis).

Clearly, Barabbas Dialogues raises many points without providing any easy answer, probably because "the experience of reading [the Bible] didnít provide clear answers, but rather raised a cascade of big questions" (Sallinen).

Barabbas Dialogues is one of Sallinenís most personal and complex works, not because of the music but for the "unanswered questions" it raises. It is thus up to any of us to try to see through the whole and to find our own answers. Musically speaking, this beautiful, often gripping and thought-provoking piece is a high watermark in Sallinenís output. The vocal parts are all superbly written and the small ensemble is handled with remarkable resourcefulness, invention and imagination. "Is Barabbas Dialogues a song cycle, a chamber opera, a cantata, a piece of music theatre or something else?", the composer asks. I for one do not know, and Ė frankly Ė it does not matter that much, if at all; but I firmly believe that Barabbas Dialogues is a great piece of music that should not Ė and must not Ė be ignored.

Hubert Culot

I firmly believe that Barabbas Dialogues is a great piece of music that should not Ė and must not Ė be ignored. ... see Full Review


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