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Oskar Gottlieb BLARR (b. 1934)
Jesus-Passion (1983-85) [96:42]
Gloria Rehm (soprano)
Silvia Hauer (mezzo soprano)
Sung Min Song (tenor)
Johannes Hill (baritone)
Markus Volpert (Jesus, bass-baritone)
Bachchor Wiesbaden
Jugendkantorei der ev. Singakademie Wiesbaden
Bachorchester Wiesbaden/Jörg Endebrock
Mirjam Wiesemann in conversation with Oskar Gottlieb Blarr [94:01]
Mirjam Wiesemann in conversation with Odilo Klasen [36:11]
rec. live, 30 March 2018, Lutherkirche Wiesbdaden; Conversations (2018)

Oskar Gottlieb Blarr is known as an organist, composer, church musician and academic. His composition pedigree includes studies with Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Krzysztof Penderecki, and his catalogue of works includes four oratorios on the life of Jesus, four symphonies, chamber music and works for organ which have also been recorded on the Cybele label (review).

The Jesus-Passion is the confluence of a lifetime in religious music in one way or another, but Blarr took a sabbatical in Israel in 1981/82 in order to seek out Jesus’ roots and to experience the biblical environment for himself, and this is where the seeds of this substantial piece were planted. This is a work which takes a conscious political stance where antisemitism is concerned. Blarr distances himself from the examples of the St. John and St, Matthew Passions or gospels: the narrative in which the Jews are held responsible for the death of Jesus. He sees the subject of racism as a choice between the path to death or the path to life: “ one can hold our dear God responsible if, right now, someone kills someone else.” The texts used here are essentially Biblical but somewhat eclectic, including passages from the New Testament, and poets Pinchas Sadeh and Alfred Kittner. The texts are not printed in the booklet, but there is a detailed explanation of the narrative which makes very clear what is going on as the piece unfolds.

We’re drawn in at the opening of the Jesus-Passion by an ensemble of flutes that include bass flute and piccolo - an unusual sonority for this kind of work, but effective in suggesting people discussing or arguing about something. There are some idiomatic references which crop up as the work progresses. The presence of Stravinskian neo-classicism is unavoidable, with some gestures that lean towards Messiaen, elements of Hasidic or folk rhythms, religious chant or ancient Sephardic flavours of sound jostle with a craggy modern idiom in dramatic but strikingly communicative ways. Blarr for instance makes use of ancient shofar calls he experienced from Yemeni Jews when staying in a village near Jerusalem in the early 1980s, played in this case by trombones. His music is summed up here as “immediately comprehensible”, and indeed the vividly characterful and depictive nature of the musical narrative is a model of clarity - with an impressive impact. There are some heart-stopping moments along the way, the opening to the third and final part, Crucifixion in particular. While all this is undeniable it would, in the absence of the printed text, have been useful to have track numbers embedded into the synopsis in the booklet, so one didn’t have to hop between the track listings to see if what you are reading about actually fits the bit of the story you are hearing.

The recording is live, and there are a few little bumps and ticks to go along with the music, but nothing too disturbing. The performance is very strong indeed, with all of the singers inhabiting their roles impressively. The recording is also very fine, with plenty of instrumental detail and a good balance between instruments and the large choir. The soundstage is at times startlingly realistic especially through headphones, at times making you look up to see if a singer hasn’t wandered into your room and started a solo right next to you without your realising it.

As with each one of this ‘Artist in Conversation’ series, the interviews are in German, but filled with anecdote and useful information if you are prepared to spend time with them. Blarr’s wide-ranging conversation goes from his early memories up to thoughts on music today and the issues deriving from the Jesus-Passion. There is a further interview with Odilo Klasen, a close collaborator with Blarr in the past, and through his doctoral thesis on the composer an expert commentator on his life and work.

Dominy Clements


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