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Josef MYSLIVECEK (1737-1781)
La passione di nostro Signore Gesu Cristo (c1770) [102 '26]
Sophie Karthäuser (soprano) Maddalena; Jörg Waschinski (male soprano) Pietro; Yvonne Berg (contralto) Giovanni; Andreas Karasiak (tenor) Giuseppe d'Arimatea
Das Neue Orchester/Christoph Spering.
rec. Deutschland Radio, Cologne, 13-18 April 2004.
Text and translation included
CAPRICCIO SACD 71 025/26 [59'10 + 43'16]

 


Interesting that the librettist of this oratorio, none other than Pietro Metastasio, avoids biblical passages completely. In doing so, this lets in an emotive realism that allows a quasi-operatic treatment by Prague-born Myslivecek. The composer's penchant for Metastasio in his thirty-odd operas obviously extended to oratorio. The apostle Peter becomes a major figure in the drama. Absent from the crucifixion itself, he has to make urgent enquiry into the state of play. Enter Mary Magdalene - a Biblical character under much re-evaluation in current spirituality - who accompanied Jesus to the cross. Other characters include John (here of course Giovanni), the second eyewitness, Joseph of Arimathea (Giuseppe).

So it is the human emotions that are at the forefront here. Peter has to come to terms with the death of his Master, and is subject to the all-too-human frailty of denial. As Peter has to ask the others what happened, the result is Myslivecek's musical depiction of events in narrative form. There follows a musical consideration of the trials of Jesus' mother; then comes the guilt and remorse of Mary Magdalene and of Peter. The second part of the Oratorio is a sequence of meditations on the death and possible hope thereafter including, of course, the Resurrection, a concept which finally assumes the status of certainty to the protagonists.

There are many arias here, all da capo. It is a pleasure to report that the singing, like the playing, is of a nearly uniform high quality. Try the Introduction to get a feel of the excellence of Das Neue Orchester – accents are painfully stabbing, tremolandi intensely dramatic. It is good to welcome Jörg Wlachinski in the part of Peter. Male sopranos are in short supply, and here is one that relishes the quasi-operatic opportunities. His aria, 'Giacché mi tremi in seno' (close to J. C. Bach in style) shows his agility, his sure, clean slurs and his open voice perfectly. Matching him musically is soprano Sophie Karthäuser, her sad aria 'Vorrei dirti il mio dolore' full of superb legato phrasing. Her long Part II aria, 'Ai passi erranti' (9'01 in duration) is Karthäuser's moment of musical triumph.

Interesting that the part of John is taken by a female (contralto Yvonne Berg). Berg is simply superb, interestingly, nowhere more so than in her recitative towards the end of Part I ('Dopo un pegno sì grande d'amore'). Her Part II aria, 'Ritornerà fra voi' is scarcely less impressive.

Andreas Karasiak's tenor voice can be strong, but it can also display a tremulous side that is perhaps less alluring. It is this that makes him the weakest of the soloists. But certainly not so weak as to take away recommendation of this fascinating issue. We are in Capriccio's debt for revealing this little-known work in such polished terms.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Johan van Veen



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