Penderecki: Passio et mors Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Lucam

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COMPOSERS: Penderecki
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: Passio et mors Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Lucam
PERFORMER: Franziska Hirzel (soprano), François Le Roux (baritone), Jean-Philippe Courtis (bass), Manfred Jung (speaker); Cologne WDR Radio Chorus, North German Radio Chorus, Mainz Cathedral Choir, Bonn Beethovenhalle Orchestra/Marc Soustrot
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 337 0981-2
Before Penderecki went all neo-Romantic, he was up there with Lutoslawski, Ligeti and Górecki as a key figure in the so-called ‘texturalist’ avant-garde centred in Eastern Europe during the Sixties. The magnum opus of this period is his St Luke Passion, which was premiered in 1965 and became an instant classic. Its emotional strength lies in its timely allying of Christ’s persecution with the trials of the Roman Catholic church in Communist Poland, while its musical tensions arise from the juxtaposition of diatonic fragments with orchestral and choral writing of an expressionistically tectonic scale. Using the full force of noise and sonority as musical tools – thick clusters of notes, massive chords – the story of the Passion is portrayed with a visceral verisimilitude.

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This issue derives from a Cologne Radio recording of a single performance in Bonn last year. As such, it has all the trappings of live recording: audience shuffling, orchestral untidiness and, most crucial of all, some often woefully insecure choral singing. The balance and sound are impressive enough, but this powerful work needs more accuracy (refinement even) than we often get here; there’s also only a German translation of the sung Latin. Matthew Rye