Blacher: Der Grossinquisitor

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LABELS: Berlin Classics
WORKS: Der Grossinquisitor
PERFORMER: Siegmund Nimsgern (baritone);Leipzig Radio Choir, Dresden PO/ Herbert Kegel
Based on Dostoyevsky’s last novel The Brothers Karamazov, Blacher’s oratorio Der Grossinquisitor (The Grand Inquisitor) was written in the war years, the first part in 1942, the second in 1945 when the composer’s fortunes were at their lowest ebb. Banned by the Nazis and placed on their register of Jews in music, as well as suffering from recurrent bouts of tuberculosis which had plagued him from childhood, he retired to the Austrian home of the parents of one of his composition students, Gottfried von Einem, and struggled to compose. The first part, entirely choral, starts with Jesus returning to earth, specifically 16th-century Seville, where the day before several hundred heretics were burned on the orders of the Grand Inquisitor, while the second, in which Blacher was aided by Leo Borchard, uses the three temptations of Jesus, with the Inquisitor (solo baritone) as the Devil’s intermediary. Blacher’s music is essentially tonal with Stravinskian rhythmic emphasis, the orchestral sound fairly sparse, each of the 14 numbers relatively short. While his melodies seem aimless, the piece is nonetheless heartfelt. Balance in Dresden’s Lukaskirche is focused on a forward sound for the excellent Leipzig Radio Choir, while a dramatically operatic account of the title role is given by Siegmund Nimsgern, the orchestra musically restrained yet occasionally given its head under the expert control of Herbert Kegel. Christopher Fifield