Martinu: The Greek Passion

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Martinu
LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: The Greek Passion
PERFORMER: Esa Ruuttunen, McCallum, Adrian Clarke, Christopher Ventris, John Daszak; Moscow Chamber Choir, Vienna SO/Ulf Schirmer
CATALOGUE NO: 3-6590-2
Martinu’s last opera is perhaps his boldest: a condensation of Kazantzakis’s vast retelling of the passion story, set in Turkish-dominated Greece in the early 20th century, into hardly more than two hours of music, it nevertheless brilliantly preserves the epic sweep of the original. In the last 40 years it has been known in a revision made for Zürich (recorded in 1981 by Mackerras on Supraphon); the original version, intended for Covent Garden, was discarded and eventually dispersed. With ingenuity worthy of Sherlock Holmes, Aleš Brezina has reconstructed the original and last year it was premiered at the Bregenz Festival.

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The Bregenz staging, produced by David Pountney with a breathtaking set by Stefanos Lazaridis (revived at Covent Garden in April), was extraordinarily moving. In the Nineties when the dispossessed cross and recross Europe, this opera, which takes the fate of the refugee as a central theme, struck home with astonishing force. Inevitably, the Bregenz performance loses something when transferred to disc, but the poignancy of this production is unquestionably present. Christopher Ventris’s and Nina Stemme’s readings of their key roles are magnificent, but the crucial feature that makes this performance such an unforgettable experience is the passionate advocacy of Ulf Schirmer’s conducting. Jan Smaczny