WORKS: Good Friday
PERFORMER: Philip Gault, Benedict Linton, Adam Turncliffe, Nick Berry, Alastair Merry; Choir of Lincoln College, Oxford, Oxford Contemporary Sinfonia, members of the RPO/Benjamin Nicholas
CATALOGUE NO: GMCD 7178
Professor John Caldwell teaches music at Oxford, and wrote this 75-minute opera, based on Christ’s crucifixion and using a libretto written in Latin as well as modern and medieval English, for the chapels of three of the university’s colleges: Lincoln, Jesus and Exeter. Its first performances in 1998, where each scene was played in a different college’s chapel and the action was linked by processional music for voices and portable instruments, were by all accounts sensational. On disc, in a revised and ostensibly less unwieldy form, it’s another matter.
I have tried but failed to like this. Its combination of piety and pretentiousness, not to mention a mess of conflicting styles – cacophonous atonal brass; quasi-medieval plainchant; complex percussive speech patterns; sub-Weill Weimar-Republic-era cabaret music (‘to symbolise the low life of the hangers-on at the palace of Annas’); and bombastic choruses reminiscent of the Verdi Requiem – plus some very uneven singing, make it appropriately penitential listening. Claire Wrathall