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Johannes Passion

3.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Audio CD, October 16, 2001
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Product Description

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The pealing bells that open Sofia Gubaidulina's St. John Passion immediately announce not only its importance, but also its place firmly in the Russian musical tradition. The work is full of declamatory, hieratic solo passages and rich choral contributions, along with references to Russian Orthodox chants. Gubaidulina's text combines the Passion story with the Last Judgment, using excerpts from the Gospel According to Saint John interspersed with selections from other Books, including Revelations. It's a grim work, brilliantly inventive throughout, with original touches, such as a dialogue between baritone and timpani, and a Day of Wrath featuring menacing percussion and truly terrifying brass yowls and rumblings. Along with these and many other personal visions are echoes of Mussorgsky, as well as the Stravinsky of Les Noces. Gergiev leads a deeply moving performance, intensely dramatic, never flagging in interest or tension, and his soloists are all outstanding. This must be heard by anyone interested in modern music that's both accessible and challenging. Part of a series of commissioned oratorios on the Passion story for the Bach Year, it's a worthy tribute to the Bach Passions that inspired it. --Dan Davis
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Product Details

  • Performer: Gennady Bezzubenkov, Natalia Kornewa, Viktor Lutsuk
  • Orchestra: St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra
  • Conductor: Valery Gergiev
  • Composer: Sofia Gubaidulina
  • Audio CD (October 16, 2001)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Hänssler Classic
  • ASIN: B00005QE11
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #386,352 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Sofia Gubaidulina's JOHANNES-PASSION is the composer's masterpiece, a moving choral and orchestral work, and one of the greatest works of Christian piety of our time.

In 2000 Gubaidulina was one of four composers from different parts of the world brought together by the International Bachakademie Stuttgart to each write a Passion. (The others were Tan Dun, Wolfgang Rihm, and Osvaldo Golijov). Gubaidulina rooted hers in the liturgical tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church, and because that tradition eschews use of instruments, her work is often mainly choral, with brief orchestral pomp such as in the enchanting "Liturgie in himmel", though percussion such as bells and drums is noticible more often. In the beginning of the second disc the two choruses battle against each together like prosecution and defense about the divinity of Jesus, mixing beautifully sung and spoken word.

JOHANNES-PASSION begins with the first couple of verses from St John's gospel, the explanation of the eternity of the Word, and for much of the first disc it explores the foot-washing and commandments to faith and love, as well as some glorious theological matters before reaching the beginnings of Christ's suffering. What makes Gubaidulina's Passion so fascinating and original from a textual point of view is her use of a *second* book, the Revelation to St John the Divine. While the Gospel according to St John speaks of what has passed, the Revelation tells of what is to come. In this way Gubaidulina covers the whole of Christian experience, from the founding of the Church to the end of time.

This recording is a live one of the work's premiere, and there are clearly portions where the work could have been heard better. In some of the quiet moments the shifting in chairs, etc. can be heard.
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I certainly hoped that this major work would prove to be Sofia Gubaidulina's masterpiece, but I was apprehensive, particularly since it didn't seem to have attracted much attention since its 2001 release. This is a live recording of the premiere performance on September 1, 2000 in Stuttgart, and I finally heard it this year, just after Easter. I have to say in all honesty that it just doesn't have enough music in it. As a work of devotion, it may be powerful, but in musical terms it falls well short of Gubaidulina's best works, STIMMEN ... VERSTUMMEN for orchestra, for instance (see my review), THE CANTICLE OF THE SUN (see my review of the original recording with Rostropovich on cello), or OFFERTORIUM, featuring Gidon Kremer (see my review).

There is always religious symbolism in Gubaidulina's works, and what she has achieved with this JOHANNES PASSION is amazing in that regard. Not content to merely tell the tale of the Passion from the Gospel of St. John, she interweaves it with the Apocalypse of the Last Judgement from the Book of Revelation (traditionally attributed to the same St. John, though that is not supported by recent scholarship). The booklet includes Gubaidulina's philosophical/theological explanation for this juxtoposition. Here is Gubaidulina:

"My piece, which I now place before the court of the audience, is an attempt at revealing the Word of God, which has come to us, and is living within us, such that His flesh (the temporal, event-laden *horizontal*, i.e., the Passion) and His spirit (the timeless, mental *vertical*, i.e., the Last Judgement) are reunited, refer back to one another and balance each other out.
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Sofia Gubaydulina submitted this JOHANNES PASSION for the 2000 Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart "Passion 2000" project: the commissioned works were Sofia Gubaidulina (Johannes-Passion), Tan Dun (Water Passion After St. Matthew), Osvaldo Golijov (La Pasión según San Marcos - The Passion according to St. Mark), and Wolfgang Rihm (Deus Passus). Though this listener has heard all of of the passions created for this occasion - and they are all brilliant compositions - this very strange work by Gubaidulina sustains interest longer. It was composed for double chorus, orchestra, keyboards and synthesizer and for this recording the St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater Orchestra and chorus are led by Valery Gergiev. The soloists of this all Russian ensemble are Viktor Lutsuk, Gennady Bezzubenkov, and Natalia Kornewa.

In keeping with her Russian origins Gubaidulina makes the choral aspect of the work the most important and there are echoes of Russian chants and the bass-supported Russian choral singing that has remained a staple in music literature. The chorus interacts with the soloists in what is apparently a combination of the Passion according to St John and the book of Revelations. Percussion plays a major role in this work - percussion including keyboards and all forms of percussive instruments - and in portions of the work most terrifying she uses the bass soloist as another member of the percussion family, so declamatory are his (here, Gennady Bezzubenkov) outbursts of horror. The orchestral writing embroiders the choral writing, much in contrast to most setting of the Passion. The strange orchestration gives a sense of otherworldliness to the singing, as though we are privy to music from another place entirely.
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