Golijov: St. Mark Passion

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Golijov
LABELS: DG
WORKS: St Mark Passion; plus DVD Filmed Live at the Holland Festival 2008
PERFORMER: Jessica Rivera (soprano), plus various soloists; Schola Cantorum de Venezuela; Orquesta La Pasión; Members of the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela/Maria Guinand
CATALOGUE NO: DG 477 7461

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The temptation to wave banner-headlines – ‘Crossover Comes of Age’ – should be resisted. For a start, although Osvaldo Golijov mixes Northern and Southern American elements, draws in African chanting and drumming, evokes the great Bach Passions in passing, and rounds the whole experience off with an ancient Jewish prayer, there’s no crossing over as far as his own roots are concerned.

An Argentine-born Jew, Golijov had early access to a whole panoply of ‘native’ styles – many with crucial musical ancestry in Europe and Africa. In fact the only thing Golijov had to discover as an outsider was the Gospel story. In any case the synthesis is so complete it doesn’t feel in the least synthetic. 

The pounding and pulsating drum rhythms may sometimes echo Steve Reich, but Golijov varies them with greater vitality and subtlety. The result is an experience as powerfully cumulative as Reich’s Drumming, but with far more fluidity and contrast – this, after all, is the basis of a dramatic and keenly emotional account of the suffering and death of Christ. 

Hearing it is impressive enough, but the live DVD version adds to the experience. Here’s a straightforward concert film, with a minimum of staging; yet watching the musicians gesturing, grimacing, throwing out their hands and even dancing with such uncontrived enthusiasm is a reminder of how theatrical the simple business of performing music can be.

The studio recorded CD version is very clear and immediate, though it sounds dry, and ‘produced’ in a way that will probably appeal more to rock or jazz musicians. I do miss the atmosphere of the Amsterdam Royal Theatre on the DVD, which would have probably made a fine recording in its own right.

One small moan about the DVD: shame we don’t have the option of subtitles – you can’t watch and read the booklet. Stephen Johnson

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