St Luke Passion
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Penderecki' St Luke Passion takes as its model the Passions of Bach, the events leading up to the Crucifixion related in an ongoing sequence of narratives, arias and choruses. Its stark simplicity and directness attracted worldwide attention and it was qu
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The use of the boys' choir is the final piece to the puzzle, of what is an almost perfectly constructed and performed work. (I have found that "Messiah" performed with a boys' choir instead of sopranos is a marvelous improvement too.)
The first time I've heard music from Polish-born composer Krzysztof Penderecki was from the Kubrick horror classic, The Shining. It grew on me, and I just had to hear more from him. So I bought the St. Luke Passion on Amazon (actually from Newbury Comics, an Amazon seller, but anyway), played the CD, and 76 minutes later, I was completely hooked. This is not gentle Mozart-like music. This is more in the likes of Ligeti's "Atmospheres" and "Requiem." This is a very powerful work that requires a very large orchestra and a very professional choir. These two requirements are due to the fact that St. Luke Passion is full of raw emotion and power.
Penderecki is a very religious man, and his strongest beliefs are expressed here. St. Luke Passion tells of the mockings against Christ as he is about to be crucified. We all know how disturbing his death is described in the Bible. Well, just imagine how it is expressed through music: Penderecki has created some of the most violent (and some of the eeriest) music that's ever been heard in the 20th-Century. Full of harsh strings and percussion, loud woodwinds and brass, and ghostly choral techniques, this is a large-scale work that probably shouldn't be played with the lights turned off.
Upon listening to it, you can tell that this is certainly very hard to perform. Perhaps that's why it's rarely recorded. In this particular 2002 recording, however, Antoni Wit and the Polish forces have covercome this sort of challenge by playing it almost perfectly. Everything is set off without a hitch. The strings have that right amount of madness that's required, while the brass and woodwinds manage to achieve the nightmarish requirements with the fewest mistakes. The Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir and the Warsaw Boys Choir have done an excellent job: they were able to pull it off by becoming Penderecki experts. Wit, especially, knows the score very well. He is able to bring out the fullest qualities that are needed for this sort of work. Credit should be given to him and his forces for performing this complicated choral work.
Naxos has released a series of Penderecki works, and continues to release more to this day. I'm looking forward to all of them, as Penderecki has quickly become one of my favorite 20th-century composers.
The St Luke Passion is scored for a massive orchestra, including a large percussion section, chorus and boys chorus, soprano, baritone, and bass soloists, and an Evangelist. The work sets texts from the Gospel of St. Luke as well as from other biblical and liturgical sources.
The St. Luke Passion reflects the composer's own devout faith, but one does not need to be a believer to respond to this score. The music is almost entirely atonal. At only two points, at the end of the piece and it the conclusion of the climactic "stabat mater" does Penderecki resolve the music into a chord in the major key. Virtually the entire work is sad and somber. Within its frame, their is a great diversity of music. Penderecki uses the form of ancient chants, in the chorus singing a capella in hushed tones. In portions of the work, such as the scene before Pilate (track no 13) or the scene where Jesus is mocked on the cross (track no 22) the chorus hisses and shouts in a strong cacophony of sound. The soloists have moments of almost mystical intensity. And the spoken part of the Evangelist alternates effectively with the choral and solo passages. The music makes frequent use of a gong, which reminded me of the extensive use of that instrument in the more accessible music of the American composer, Alan Hovhaness.
This recording of the St Luke Passion dates from 2004 and received a deserved rating of 10/10 on Classics Today. Antoni Wit conducts the Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra and the Warsaw Boys Choir. The recording is part of a continuing series of Penderecki's major works on the budget-priced Naxos label. It makes a compelling case for this passionate music. The CD includes detailed liner notes and the complete Latin text and translation of the Passion. Izabella Klosinaska is especially impressive in her soprano solos.
The St Luke Passion opens with an expansive prayer, set for organ, orchestra and large chorus. It follows, in Part I with a series of recitifs, solos, and choruses of the events leading to the arrest of Jesus. The admonition "Jerusalem, Jerusalem turn again to thy God" is repeated twice, the first time for chorus the second time for soprano solo.
The second and longer portion of the work describes the Crucifiction in anguished music with frenetic writing for the chorus. The climactic moments of the work include the long chorus "Popule meus" (track 16), the "Stabat mater" (track 24) which incorporates Penderecki's setting of this text in 1962, and the final chorus (track 27) which ends in the major key with the words Into thy hands I commend my spirit/ for thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, thou God of truth."
The St. Luke Passion is difficult music with an emotional force that cannot be denied. Listeners who are willing to see that modernistic music can have an almost visceral appeal will love this music of passion and religious devotion.
Total Time: 76:24