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Osvaldo GOLIJOV (b. 1960) La Pasión según San Marcos (St. Mark Passion) (2000)
Biella Da Costa (Latin-American alto)
Jessica Rivera (soprano)
Reynaldo González-Fernández (Afro-Caribbean vocalist)
Gioconda Cabrera (Afro-Caribbean vocalist)
Manolo Mairena (Afro-Cuban vocalist)
Alex Alvear (vocals)
Schola Cantorum de Venezuela
Orquesta La Pasión
Members of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela/María
Guinand (CD) Robert Spano (DVD)
rec. CD: January 2007; November 2008, Edificio Centro Empresarial
Polar, Caracas, Venezuela; November 2008, Heart Punch Studios, Boston,
USA; December 2008, BiCoastal Music, Westchester, USA. DVD: 22 June
2008, Royal Carré Theatre, Amsterdam (Holland Festival). Libretto
CD track listing at the end of this review
DVD Region: 0
Picture format: NTSC, 16:9
Sound: PCM stereo
Menu language: English
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00289 477 7461CD: [84:27] [53:06
+ 31:21] DVD:
Take an Argentine composer of Jewish extraction, mix in the
dance rhythms of Africa – by way of Brazil and Cuba – and you
might just get a flavour of this extraordinary work. One of
four Passion setting commissioned by the Internationale Bachakademie
to mark the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death, Golijov’s
La Pasión según San Marcos has been rapturously received
everywhere. Indeed, this is the second recording of the work
– the world premiere was issued on Hänssler Classic 98404 –
but DG have gone one better and included a bonus DVD of a live
performance from the 2008 Holland Festival.
Another plus for DG is that both performances include members
of the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra who, along with maestro
Dudamel, have endeared themselves to audiences the world over.
I thoroughly enjoyed their BBC Prom concert in 2007 – not to
their disc of South American music – and I’m sure DG are only
too keen to promote these talented youngsters, conducted here
by the work’s dedicatee, Maria Guinand (CD) and by the Atlanta
Symphony’s music director Robert Spano (DVD).
So, without hearing a note of La Pasión según San Marcos
it’s clearly as far from Bach’s Lutheran sensibilities as
it’s possible to get. Golijov was able to start from a clean
slate as it were, since the score of Bach’s St Mark Passion,
premiered in Leipzig in 1731, is lost. One can only wonder what
the venerable old organist would have made of the forces assembled
here – choir, all-important percussionists, trumpets, trombones,
guitars (including bass), piano, strings, Berimbau (a Brazilian
instrument of African origin), vocalists and dancers.
La Pasión según San Marcos opens with a powerful rhythmic
pulse that permeates the entire piece, plus baying brass and
unsettling orchestral glissandi, before the chorus’s
first entry. As Alan Rich points out in his admirable liner-notes,
this is music of the streets, Mark’s first plaintive solo rising
from this riotous mix in The SecondAnnunciation.
It’s a highly individual vocal style, the rapid succession of
short syllables creating a rhythm all of its own. It soon becomes
clear that the role of Mark, the chronicler of these momentous
events, is shared between the choir – a Greek chorus, if you
like – and the soloists. It may seem like an odd conceit – Golijov
also allocates other important roles to various soloists, often
of different sex – but it works rather well.
The recording is very immediate, which makes the percussion
and drums seem all the more hypnotic. The Anointment in Bethany
is similarly mesmeric, the choir just marvellous as the questioning
Apostles in the jabbing dance music of Why?This is music
of great warmth and vitality, illuminated by flashes of instrumental
colour – the accordion, for instance – and played with all the
exuberance and sense of spectacle one could hope for. But there
are meditative moments, too – just listen to the haunting instrumental
Lucumi Prayer – Aria with Crickets. And who would have
thought Judas, the great betrayer, would be blessed with music
of such sway and sultriness in Judas and the Paschal Lamb?
I must admit that on first acquaintance this music struck me
as somewhat unvaried, but subsequent auditions revealed more
subtleties of rhythm and colour than I thought possible, given
the forces involved. In particular, the different vocal styles
and inflections help to create a collage of contrasting aural
patterns. Nowhere is this more evident than in Judas’ sinuous
aria, sung to a guttural string-driven flamenco tune,
or in the pure loveliness of women’s voices and ecstatic soloist
in The Eucharist. The latter, sung most beautifully by
soprano Jessica Rivera, is a simple, deeply affecting number
which, like the solemn sacrament itself, lies at the very heart
of this extraordinary work.
And just when one might expect a flamboyant response, in the
Psalm settings of We give thanks unto the Lord for example,
Golijov surprises us with murmured chorus and muted drums that
grow in volume and intensity before subsiding once more and
paving the way for Mark’s unaccompanied solo in The Mount
of Olives. And what a strange, otherworldly sound the women
make in To Gethsemane, which contrasts with the lift
and line of Jesus’ solo. In Agony, when Jesus is left
alone as his disciples sleep, the opening guitar melodies are
quietly reflective, soloists and chorus, now hushed now ecstatic,
singing with tremendous focus and feeling.
They say the Devil has all the best tunes, and so it proves
in Judas’s upbeat intro to The Arrest, while Christ’s
arraignment before Caiaphas is despatched with all the heat
and flamboyance of a Rio carnival. It’s an overwhelming display,
sensibly recorded and balanced, which then modulates to the
thrilling ostinati and scat-like solo of I Am (Confession).
Golijov then changes tack by setting a Galician poem, Colorless
Moon –Aria of Peter’s Tears, to music of rare simplicity
and heart-piercing sorrow. Above bleached, dragging strings
the soloist gives soaring voice to Peter’s lament. It’s one
of the emotional and musical highpoints of a score that just
grows in stature at each hearing.
There’s another kind of frisson in the strange choral
caterwauling that accompanies Jesus’ appearance before Pilate.
This, too, is music of real imagination and visceral intent.
It makes the strongest possible contrast with the terrifying
Silence,flamenco stamping, clapping and the sound
of the cajón (box drum). It certainly helps to heighten
the dramatic tension as we go into the agitated, almost martial
music of Sentence, but then the composer throws another
curve ball by turning the grim procession to Golgotha into a
swaying, snaking carnival parade, complete with wild dissonances
on the piano. Paradoxical as this may seem, Golijov’s musical
and dramatic instincts are seldom wrong, as we hear in the shouts
of the chorus and sharp, nail-driving beat of Crucifixion.
Even Christ’s cries of ‘My God, my God’ (Elohi, elohi) are transformed
into a pure, ululating lament over an urgent bass; it’s yet
another of those startling epiphanies, of which the concluding
Kaddish (the Jewish prayer for the dead) is the most
eloquent. Over the rhythmic figures first heard at the outset
of the Passion, the chorus and soloist sing with a remarkable
blend of inward calm and outward radiance, the beat dying slowly
at the last Amen. In any other hands this could so easily descend
into mawkishness, but once again the composer’s musical and
dramatic judgment are weighed and not found wanting. A remarkable
coda to a truly remarkable work.
I imagine most listeners will buy this set for the audio rather
than the video, but having listened to the CDs several times
I was curious to see how it all works in the theatre. First
off, there aren’t as many performers as I’d imagined, the simply
attired chorus, instrumentalists and vocalists clustered together
on what seems to be a fairly compact stage. The lighting is
subdued, brightening only to highlight the singers and dancers
at key points in the drama; colours are warm and vibrant, the
picture pin-sharp. The camerawork isn’t too intrusive, cutting
between shots of maestro Spano and selected groups of performers.
Some of the latter look a bit tense, concentrating intently
on the conductor’s beat. Which is just as well, given the rapid-fire
delivery and cross-rhythms involved.
I was particularly curious to see how the dances are done. Capoeira
dances, a mix of movement and music, were introduced to Brazil
by African slaves. Deraldo Ferreira, the sole exponent here,
makes his first appearance in the Dance of the Ensnared Fishermen.
It’s all very literal, his slow dance accomplished under a net,
but it works well enough. Later, in the Dance of the White
Sheet, he performs what can best be described as a slow,
rather balletic break dance routine.
The camera just loves soprano Jessica Rivera, and so will you
after hearing her stratospheric singing in The Eucharist.
I did wonder whether some echo had been added at the post-production
stage, her voice – and that of the women – echoing as if in
some long-forgotten cloister. Generally, though, I was very
impressed by the quality of the PCM soundtrack on this DVD;
it’s warm and detailed, with plenty of punch and decent perspectives.
Some may wish for DTS or other surround options, but when vanilla
stereo sounds this good who could ask for more?
Watching this performance, rather than just listening to it,
makes one more keenly aware of the varying dynamics of what
is essentially a theatrical piece, especially the way soloists
and choruses interact. Mark acts and dances in Face to Face
and in the Dance of the White Sheet the chorus moves
to the music as well. In Scorn and denial the choir divide
and face each other, suddenly transformed into a baying mob.
And in Morning: Before Pilate they deliver what can only
be described as the vocal equivalent of a ‘Mexican Wave’, their
voices rising and falling to great effect.
Just before the drama peaks Christ in his crown of thorns is
brought on to the Dance of the Holy Purple Robe. It’s
a moment of high emotion, the act itself incorporated into Ferreira’s
cool, methodical dance. It’s also a chilling counterpoint to
the choral cries and cataclysmic drumming of Crucifixion,
the intensity of which isalmost too much to bear.
Christ is then taken down and wrapped in a shroud, a powerful
yet poignant presence as the closing prayer is sung. Not surprisingly,
there is a long silence before the applause begins, members
of the audience clearly overwhelmed by what they’ve just witnessed.
Indeed, only the stoniest of hearts could fail to be moved –
and moved mightily – by this searing work. It’s a dramatic and
musical triumph, and DG are to be commended for bringing it
– and its talented composer – to a wider audience. Both performances
are powerful and inspiring, and must surely be the benchmarks
against which all future versions will be judged. I look forward
to a performance here in the UK – a Prom would be ideal – but
in the meantime I urge you to go out and buy this set. One critic
has called La Pasión según San Marcos ‘the first undisputed
masterpiece of the 21st century’; after living with
these discs for several days I’m inclined to agree.
CD 1 Visión: Bautismo en la Cruz (Vision: Baptism on the Criss)
[1:04] Danza del Pescador Pescado (Dance of the Ensnared Fishermen)
[0:52] Primer Anuncio (First Annunciation) [3:55] Segundo Anuncio (Second Annunciation) [2:02] Tercer Anuncio: En Fiesta No (Third Annunciation: Not
on the Feast Day) [0:57] Dos Días (Two Days) [1:40] Uncíon en Betania (The Anointment in Bethany) [1:11]
¿Por qué? (Why?) [4:00] Oración Lucumí – Aria con Grillos (Lucumi Prayer – Aria
with Crickets) [2:27] El Primer Día (The First Day) [1:30] Judas y El Cordero Pascual (Judas and the Paschal Lamb)
[4:35] Quisiera Yo Renegar – Aria de Judas (I wish to forswear
– Judas’ aria) [2:49] Eucaristía (The Eucharist) [3:52] Demos Gracias al Señor (We give thanks unto the Lord)
[5:14] En el Monte de los Olivos (On the Mount of Olives) [1:06]
Cara a Cara (Face to Face) [1:11] En Getsemaní (In Gethsemane) [2:04] Agonía – Aria de Jesús (Agony – Jesus’ aria) [8:21] Aresto – Danza Sabana Blanca (The Arrest – Dance of the
White Sheet) [2:31] Ante Caifás (Before Caiaphas) [1:45]
CD 2 Soy Yo – Confesión (I Am – Confession) [2:26] Escarnio y Negación (Scorn and denial) [1:38] Desgarro de la Túnica (Tearing of the garment) [0:55]
Lúa descolorida – Aria de las lágrimas de Pedro (Colorless
Moon – Aria of Peter’s Tears) [5:44] Amanecer: Ante Pilato (Morning: Before Pilate) [3:46]
Silencio (Silence) [1:48] Sentencia (Sentence) [1:46] Comparsa Al Gólgotha (To Golgotha) [3:36] Crucifixión (Crucifixion) [1:55] Muerte (Death) [1:06] Kadish (Kaddish) [6:41]
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