Rihm: St Luke Passion

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COMPOSERS: Rihm
LABELS: Hanssler
WORKS: St Luke Passion
PERFORMER: Juliane Banse (soprano), Iris Vermillion, Cornelia Kallisch (mezzo-soprano), Christoph Prégardien (tenor), Andreas Schmidt (baritone); Gächinger Kantorei, Bach Collegium Stuttgart/Helmuth Rilling
CATALOGUE NO: CD 98.397
This is one of four Passions commissioned by the International Bachakademie of Stuttgart to mark the Millennium, and the recording was made at the premiere last year. Rihm is probably best known on CD for Gesungene Zeit, recorded by Anne-Sophie Mutter, but he has been incredibly prolific in all forms, including opera. And it’s the dramatic and meditative sides of the Passion that he brings out here, with vocal lines alternately lyrical and powerful, and harmonies which dip in and out of tonality. Although he mentions Webern, Stockhausen and Feldman as strong influences, the directness of Rihm’s expression in this work, its rhythmic life and its textures, come ultimately from Bach himself. Like Bach, Rihm interpolates the gospel text with other material, mostly from the Roman Catholic liturgy, though the whole work ends with a setting of Paul Celan’s Tenebrae.

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The solo line-up is extremely impressive, with Banse caressing the words in the hymn ‘Flecte ramos’, Vermillion and Kallisch intertwining impeccably in the ‘Stabat mater’, Prégardien floating his line in the ‘Crux fidelis’, and Schmidt, who seems incapable of producing an ugly sound, bringing distinction to everything he does. It’s a work which draws you inside: a pity that the applause was left on at the end. Martin Cotton