Passion and Resurrection is not an opera, although
it may be produced in much the same way as Britten’s church
parables on which it is clearly modelled. A liturgical drama
in twelve scenes it is a re-telling of Christ’s Passion and
Resurrection and unfolds as a ritual in which some symbolism
is evident. The opposition between darkness and light, good
and evil, is emphasised by the orchestral scoring favouring
brass instruments and percussion. These are often put into sharp
contrast with a small body of strings and for most of the work’s
length by the prominent role of the male voices. Significantly
enough, the final scene (The Resurrection Garden) is dominated
by female voices (the Three Marys and the Angels). The texts
originate from various sources. The opening Liturgy is from
the Church of England Book of Common Prayer, whereas the concluding
Liturgy and dispersal use words from the Pashka of the Russian
Orthodox Church with a final blessing again from the Book of
Common Prayer. The eleven scenes of the Passion are a translation
of an anonymous 12th-century Latin Passion Play from
the Benedictine monastery of Montecassino. The final scene (The
Resurrection) is another translation from the play-book from
the monastery of St Benoît sur Loire.
overall structure of the piece is quite simple. The introductory
Liturgy leads into the first of the twelve scenes. The final
scene leads into the concluding Liturgy. The whole work is capped
by a short instrumental coda. The scenes relating the Passion
are all fairly short, starkly juxtaposed as tableaux or panels
of a polyptych.
are all characterised by a rather austere, unadorned chant-like
style perfectly in tune with the ritualistic nature of the work.
As already mentioned, the Passion is dominated by male voices
and their instrumental counterparts, i.e. brass and percussion.
There is a notable exception in the eighth scene (Dialogue of
Procula’s maid with Pilate and Procula) that strongly contrasts
with the dark, ominous and hostile mood of the other scenes.
It is as if this scene was an oasis of humanity within a world
of fanatical brutality. There are some impressive moments throughout,
e.g. the various soldiers’ and priests’ choruses with their
hoquet-like effects. The Passion sections also include episodes
in which the congregation joins in singing the hymns Pangue
Lingua, at the end of Scene 5 and at the end of Scene 7,
and Vexilla Regis, in the course of Scene 11. In fact,
most of the musical material is based on these hymns (yes, the
same hymns that open Holst’s Hymn of Jesus). The
congregation also joins in the opening and final liturgies.
As already mentioned, the final scene (The Resurrection Garden)
is the most developed of the entire work. It also contains some
of the finest music of the whole piece. The episodes of the
Three Marys and of the Angels are particularly moving; but Passion
and Resurrection as a whole is powerful and impressive
for all its apparent simplicity.
obvious practical reasons, the music is by Harvey’s standards
direct and straightforward although it displays the composer’s
remarkable flair for arresting textures. These he manages to
draw from limited orchestral forces (horn, trumpet, tenor trombone,
bass trombone, tuba, percussion [2 players], 7 violins, 1 viola,
2 cellos, 2 double basses, large organ and chamber organ ad
lib). Harvey, however, never writes down to his audience.
Anyone familiar with his church music knows the often extraordinary
results he can achieve, even when working from simple material.
A good example of this is the well-known anthem Come Holy
Ghost. Although he does not use any electronics in this
work, Harvey nevertheless has found a simple, yet highly effective
way to suggest a spatial dimension. This happens at the very
end of the work, after the final blessing, in the short coda
in which four brass players disperse slowly to the four corners
of the cathedral, and eventually into the streets. This has
been superbly brought off in this recording.
performers are very good indeed, with excellent contributions
from various soloists drawn from the ranks of the BBC Singers
however the female soloists are really outstanding. The sound
of this live recording is also very fine, with very little extraneous
noise. In short, Passion and Resurrection is a
major work by a major composer. It definitely deserves to be