Other passions

A couple of quick musical recommendations if you’re looking for some music for Holy Week that isn’t by Bach or Stainer. (I know, crazy idea, but hear me out, hear me out…)

  • Charles Wood’s St Mark Passion alternates the text of Mark’s gospel with thrilling arrangements of some great hymns of the passion: Sing My Tongue The Glorious Battle, The Heavenly Word Proceeding Forth and so on. The Naxos recording by Jesus College, Cambridge, is really rather good: so far I prefer it to the first recording of it I heard, by Gonville & Caius. Amazon | eMusic
  • Arvo Pärt’s Passio (based on St John’s gospel) was described by Simon Russell Beale (on Sacred Music) as “austere”. Well, so it is, and if you’ve ever heard any Pärt then you already know what it sounds like and whether you like it or not. The reward for sitting through its 70 minutes is getting to listen to the final minute: wow. And it’s only a single track download on eMusic, so what’s not to like? Amazon | eMusic

Both well worth a listen. Check ’em out.

If you’re in the UK, do also check out the BBC’s Sacred Music programme on Gorecki and Pärt while it’s available (until Friday 9 April). A few highlights:

  • I hadn’t appreciated just how political an act it was for Gorecki and Pärt to write sacred music under Communism. Imagine being in Estonia in 1968, in the depths of Soviet oppression, the year of the Prague Spring, and hearing a choir sing “Credo!”. No wonder they banned it.
  • The Estonian Song Festival is clearly an astounding event. Wiki says 80,000 people turn up to hear 18,000 singers. All I can say from seeing the footage is: 80,000? Yeah, right. Try doubling that. And the rest.
  • Very moving to hear the 1968 interview in which Pärt, having identified Bach, Schubert and Mozart as his main musical influences, was asked who his biggest influence was outside music. He replied simply: “Of course Jesus Christ”. Of course the interview was censored. (From around 33m 05s on.)
  • But the real treat is a rare interview with Pärt, which follows the 1968 recording. Don’t miss this.
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4 Responses to Other passions

  1. nicktheowl says:

    Can I chuck in a couple more?

    Kenneth Leighton: Cantata “Crucifixus pro nobis” (to be sung live on today’s BBC R3 “Afternoon on 3 at 2:15 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00rpwj6 ) which ends with a truly beautiful setting of “Drop, drop, slow tears”

    Carlo Gesualdo: Tenebrae responsories (especially the version by the Hilliard Ensemble) – deeply idiosyncratic and harmonically strange but very affecting 17th century settings of the liturgical texts for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday

  2. nicktheowl says:

    Oh, and how could I forget:

    Francis Poulenc: Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence (the fourth, “Tenebrae factae sunt” is one of the darkest and scariest things I’ve ever sung)

    James MacMillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross (I have rarely been as moved by a piece of music when singing a concert as I was when I performed this about 4 years ago)

  3. Michael Knepher says:

    Fie on all these UK-only links. I’m especially bummed about the no-you-can’t-have-this-in-the-US 1-track Passio on eMusic. Though I suppose it’s only turnabout for all the stuff not available for digital purchase outside the US.

    As for the BBC, I know there are ways to, um, be in the UK without necessarily being in the UK, but they should really think about instituting foreign ratepayer accounts.

    My “Holy Week” listening, if it can be called that, is Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown (http://www.emusic.com/album/Anais-Mitchell-Hadestown-MP3-Download/11812864.html), a folk-opera retelling of the Orpheus-Eurydice myth with a depression-era Americana feel. I’ll leave the task of making connections between the two trips to Hades to the reader.

  4. Rev. Alex Klages says:

    I enjoy listening to Healey Willan’s Tenebrae Responsories this time of year.

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