Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Joannem
You might expect that Pärt's meditative, detached style--with little distinction between consonance and dissonance or overt emotion--wouldn't wear well through a 70-minute Passion in Latin without even a break between tr... more »acks. (There's only one.) The roles are distinguished only by scoring: the Evangelist's narration is taken by four singers and a few instruments in various combinations; Pilate is a deliberate tenor; Jesus, a cavernous bass singing very slowly. However, if you listen calmly and attentively, this work will transport you. When Jesus sings (slowly, on a simple five-note scale), "It is finished," and the Evangelist quartet intones on a single note, "And bowing his head he gave up the spirit," it's heartbreaking. The choir's huge crescendo through the final nine-word prayer is stunning. --Matthew Westphal« less
You might expect that Pärt's meditative, detached style--with little distinction between consonance and dissonance or overt emotion--wouldn't wear well through a 70-minute Passion in Latin without even a break between tracks. (There's only one.) The roles are distinguished only by scoring: the Evangelist's narration is taken by four singers and a few instruments in various combinations; Pilate is a deliberate tenor; Jesus, a cavernous bass singing very slowly. However, if you listen calmly and attentively, this work will transport you. When Jesus sings (slowly, on a simple five-note scale), "It is finished," and the Evangelist quartet intones on a single note, "And bowing his head he gave up the spirit," it's heartbreaking. The choir's huge crescendo through the final nine-word prayer is stunning. --Matthew Westphal
"Wow! This music could have been written any time, any place - it leaves you with a bizarre sense of eternity. To be sure, it does seem eternal, or interminable, at times, because the disc is not broken up into separate tracks. But the very patience is part of the experience. You feel trapped, almost angry at them for going on and on and on, and yet the music draws you in and in, and the spell lasts and lasts, well after the 70+ minutes are over."
Music of calm but stunning spirituality
Christopher Culver | 09/08/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"he Estonian composer Arvo Part has composed in several styles during his 40-year career, but the most popular is his "tintinnabuli" style of the 1970s and 1980s, when he chose to turn away from the avant-garde towards the simpler, bell-like sonorities of medieval Western music and plainsong. Because of the frugal nature of the music, as well as the religious titles of many of his works of this time, this style has been called by some "holy minimalism". One of his most ambitious works of this era is his PASSIO or, to use its full title, "Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Joannem".
The PASSIO is a straightforward setting of the Latin (Vulgate) text of St John's Gospel. However, those expecting to hear a St John's Passion classical like Bach's or fresh and modern like Sofia Gubaidulina's will be surprised. Part has looked far into the past, further back than Bach, and produced a work reminiscent of Gregorian chant. This 60-minute work is a single track and sung uninterrupted, and the first thing that will strike the listener is its smooth and seemingly unchanging veneer. The six vocalists--Jesus, Pilate, and a quartet representing the Evangelist, sing with total sincerity but no urgency in order to let the listener form his own private relationship to his crucified Saviour out of the presented words. Each of the singers is accompanied by certain instruments, Jesus and Pilate by organ, while the Evangelist quartet by violin, cello, oboe, and bassoon.
I have been hard on Part's oeuvre during this period. Popular works like "Tabula Rasa" and "Cantus" are supposed to be "spiritual", but they communicate no clear religious orthodoxy and the listener hears whatever he wants to in it. I favour his works of the mid-to-late 1990s when he began to compose music deeply linked to his Russian Orthodox faith, a phase which culminated in his magisterial 1998 setting of the KANON POKAJANEN penitence text of St Andrew of Crete. However, PASSIO is a marvelous exception in his tintinnabuli phase. This is deeply Christian music, not easy to listen to but capable of focusing the believer on the core of his faith. I only wish that Part decided, as did Gubaidulina after her great, much greater than Part's, JOHANNES-PASSION, to set the Easter according to St John as well, it would be fascinating to hear Part's perspective on the other half of Christianity's foundation.
This performance by the Hilliard Ensemble is excellent. The six singers give powerful yet controlled performances. The first appearance of soprano Lynne Dawson is a moment you will never forget. Behind them the instruments are strong enough to give texture to the music without calling attention to themselves and detracting from the Gospel presentation. As the composer was present during the rehearsals and recording, this performance might be seen as definitive. There is another recording on the budget label Naxos of a performance by Tonus Peregrinus, but in spite of the quality of the musicianship, I find its acoustics unpleasant and I rate this ECM disc higher. I have not yet heard the recording on Finlandia.
I am, however, a bit disappointed by the liner notes. While they do give the text of the Passion in Latin with English translation and three photographs of the composer and the recording session, there is no biography of Part nor a musicological analysis of the work. This deficiency is regrettably common to nearly all of ECM's recordings of Part's music, though the liner notes for the KANON POKAJANEN are pretty good.
If you have not heard Part's music before, I would suggest the TABULA RASA or LITANY discs, also on ECM. With several works presented in each disc, there will give one a pretty good coverage of his compositional techniques. If you like what you have heard there, and are welcoming to deeply Christian music, PASSIO will probably not disappoint."
A stunning neo-medieval setting of the popular Passio text
Christopher Culver | 12/01/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In what is surely one of his best works, Arvo Part has departed from previous, more well-known settings of the popular Passio in many ways, including setting Jesus as a bass! The delicate texture of the stark, warm neo-medieval setting establishes Part as one of this century's most unique and talented composers. Recorded in one 70:52 track, the Passio requires a real listening commitment and cannot be consumed in parts. The last 90 seconds alone are worth the time. The control of the Hillier Ensemble performance is nearly flawless. I could recommend few recordings of a 20th Century piece more highly."
Minimalist and Excellent.
Christopher Culver | 02/06/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It's fabulous- dissonant and consonant- minimalist and yet still there. I love it!"