Martin: Golgotha

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Golgotha
PERFORMER: Judith Gauthier (soprano), Marianne Beate Kielland (alto), Adrian Thompson (tenor), Mattijs van de Woerd (baritone), Konstantin Wolff (bass); Cappella Amsterdam; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Reuss

‘Père! Père!’ The opening apostrophes of Frank Martin’s oratorio Golgotha deliberately post-echo those of Bach’s St John Passion, and it is tempting to view the bodeful atmosphere of Martin’s first movement as Bach refracted through the ghastly experiences of World War II, a raw and recent memory when Martin commenced the work in 1945. A restrained, haunting chromaticism suffuses the music, while Debussy’s influence on the way Martin marries melody with natural speech rhythms (and layers his harmonies) is already clearly evident.
The Palm Sunday sequence has strong operatic tendencies, soloists interlocking with the choir as rising Hosannas allow a brief shimmer of daylight to pierce through enveloping dark-hued textures. The wavery solo tenor is a mild distraction. It’s less easy to make the long monologue of Jesus in the temple interesting, and well though soloist Mattijs van de Woerd acquits himself here, one might (for the moment, at least) agree with the commentator who judged the oratorio’s mood as one of ‘almost unrelieved piety and low-key penitence’.
The potentially uninterrupted monologue of Jesus in ‘Gethsémané’, by contrast, is very effectively punctuated by an alto-tenor pairing contributing narration. With the addition of a piano, there is also more variety of colour in the often sparse accompaniment.The choral contributions throughout are engaged and responsive, though enunciation of the French text can be vague and unfocused.
Overall, however, this is a strong performance of a work where there is limited competition on CD at present. As such it warrants a warm welcome. Terry Blain