The Passion of Octavius Catto
Mike Boon (bass), Clarence Penn (drums), Barbara Walker (vocalist); The Nedra Neal Singers; The Philadelphia Choral Ensemble; The Catto Freedom Orchestra/André Raphel
Winter & Winter 9102692 29:48 mins
A playful iconoclast, Uri Caine is renowned for his jazz-infused reimaginings of classical works from the Goldberg Variations to Mahler symphonies. Caine’s concert oratorio The Passion of Octavius Catto (2014) is by contrast a powerful piece of musical storytelling that goes to the heart of the civil rights struggle, but the score is nonetheless packed with Caine’s signature vibrancy and panache.
Octavius Catto, a civil rights activist and schoolteacher, was murdered during brutal election day riots in Philadelphia in 1871. Caine’s dynamic score for chamber orchestra, jazz trio, chorus and solo gospel singer recounts the events of that terrible day while also commemorating the legacy of Catto’s campaigning. Two instrument-only movements depict the day of Catto’s murder, Caine’s score here mixing snarling brass with chaotic fragments of jazz harmony to create a vivid and frightening sense of violence and unrest. The vocal numbers meanwhile traverse everything from musical theatre, gospel to jazz, and singer Barbara Walker delivers a remarkable performance, her soaring voice lending tremendous intensity to the score across both its lamentation and celebration. Held together with admirably crisp direction from conductor André Raphel, this is a soul-stirring recording of a bold and timely work.