Golijov: St. Mark Passion (CD/DVD review)
DVD: Feature music filmed live at the Holland Festival, 2008, Royal Carre Theatre, Amsterdam, Robert Spano, conductor. DG B0014008-00.
DG went all-out on this home release, not only spreading the music out over two CD's but providing a DVD of a live production as well, both recordings under different conductors. There is everything here but a 3-D Blu-ray presentation. I guess you could say DG think the music is worth the effort, although only listeners can determine that for themselves. Certainly, the music is lively, exciting, sometimes profound, and decidedly different.
So, who is Osvaldo Golijov and what's the music all about? Golijov is a Grammy-winning, Argentinean-born composer and professor of music who, in 2000, was one of four composers the International Bach Academy of Stuttgart commissioned to write new scores for the Gospels of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They asked each composer to write music for a different one of the Gospels in the spirit of J.S. Bach, asking Golijov to do St. Mark. Thus, we have La Pasion segun San Marcos, the St. Mark Passion, which I understand audiences received with wild enthusiasm at its première. DG recorded both the studio version and the live production in 2008, presenting them both in this three-disc CD/DVD set.
The entire piece lasts about ninety minutes, and it covers Christ's life from His "vision" through His death, with the emphasis on His last days. Golijov evokes the "spirit" of Bach, but barely; he is mainly his own man in this music, and you'll find much warmth, joy, excitement, distress, and imagination involved, along with moments of outright eccentricity, Golijov setting the story in the streets of an unnamed Latin-American country, Brazil or Cuba. While the composer may have based the story and music on Mark's writing, it is not particularly "religious" as such but far more earthy and accessible. Indeed, to say the music is not of a conventional religious bent would be a monumental understatement. The work is assuredly not a preachy museum piece, far from it, nor should it offend either believers or nonbelievers in Christianity, expressing as it does a universal theme of eternal peace.
Compact Discs one and two contain the studio performance, with conductor Maria Guinand leading a team of soloists (Biella Da Costa, alto; Jessica Rivera, soprano; Reynaldo Gonzalez-Fernandez, Gioconda Cabrera, Manolo Mairena, and Alex Alvear, vocals), the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela, the Orquesta La Pasion, and members of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestre of Venezuela.
The predominant sounds are those of Latin percussives, something Bach might have appreciated if he had had a chance to hear them. The whole work is highly rhythmic, especially at the beginning where it is continuously pulsating with life. Frankly, it can be a little tiring, too, the Wife-O-Meter finding it a tad grating.
After a somewhat lengthy, sometimes raucous street scene, the tone changes, settling into a more pastoral, contemplative mood. From here, the music exhibits a wide variety of influences, with Jewish, Aramaic, and Latin-American elements interspersed with traditional Catholic liturgical underpinnings. The "Aria of Peter's Tears" in the final third of the music is particularly affecting.
The third disc is a DVD of the work in a 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. In this production, filmed at the 2008 Holland Festival, conductor Robert Spano leads soloists Biella Da Costa, Jessica Rivera, Reynaldo Gonzalez-Fernandez, and Deraldo Ferreira, the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela, and the Orquesta La Pasion. On DVD the piece makes a more spectacular stage offering than the CD does merely listening to it, and I admit I enjoyed it a tad more being able to see it performed. Nevertheless, I found the whole affair rather overlong by a good thirty minutes, whether on CD or DVD, although the length may have been a condition of the original commission.
The compact discs exhibit a wide stereo spread but not much orchestral or choral depth. Voices seem too sharply etched at times and a bit too bright, while the accompanying instruments vary in sound from clear and natural to slightly muted. As befitting an album with an abundance of percussion, the transient response favors quick, well-defined impacts. By contrast, the DVD displays a greater depth of field and a more-realistic feeling of you-are-there ambience.
DG offer the set in a fancy, foldout Digipak edition with a Picasso painting on the cover ("Crucifixion," 1930), the package containing the three discs and a booklet insert.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.