All products and recordings are chosen independently by our editorial team. This review contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.

Penderecki: St Luke Passion

Kraków Philharmonic Choir; Warsaw Boys' Choir; Montreal Symphony Orchestra/Kent Nagano, et al (BIS)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

St Luke Passion
Sarah Wegener (soprano), Lucas Meachem (baritone), Matthew Rose (bass), Sławomir Holland (speaker); Kraków Philharmonic Choir; Warsaw Boys’ Choir; Montreal Symphony Orchestra/Kent Nagano
BIS BIS-2287   66:21 mins


By declaring Krzysztof Penderecki ‘Poland’s most renowned living composer’, the booklet note is sadly just out of date, yet the timing of this new release makes it an ideal tribute to the great figure who died in late March. One of Penderecki’s key works, the St Luke Passion was commissioned for the cathedral in Münster and premiered there in 1966. A piece of stark power and emotional impact, it signals the beginnings of Penderecki’s neo-Romanticism yet still uses many of his avant garde procedures. The Latin text is taken mostly from St Luke’s Gospel, but other sources are included.

In this recording from the 2018 Salzburg Festival, Kent Nagano marshals his large forces – soloists, multiple choirs and an orchestra featuring organ plus much percussion – impressively. The darkly snarling opening is imposing, preparing the way for the narrator (a speaking part) who acts, after the manner of Bach, as the Evangelist. The baritone Lucas Meachem suggests Christ’s compassion, and Matthew Rose brings an eloquent bass to his various roles. The soprano Sarah Wegener starts ethereally, yet can project with all the power demanded by Penderecki. Joining Nagano’s Canadian orchestra, the combined Polish choirs sing with superbly controlled solemnity, especially in the long passacaglia at the heart of the work.


John Allison