Osvaldo Golijov: La Pasión según San Marcos
Luciana Souza (vocalist), Anne-Carolyn Bird (soprano), Deraldo Ferreira (berimbau/capoeira), Reynaldo González Fernández (vocalist/dancer)
Maria Guinand (conductor)
Orquestra La Pasión
Osvaldo Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos is one of the four passions commissioned by Helmut Rilling for the millennium. All have inevitable affinities with Bach, although each reflects the musical and cultural background of its composer. Sofia Gubaidulina's St John Passion and Easter (which had its UK premiere at the Proms in 2002) highlighted the tension between Bach's Lutheran world view, which has room for moments of personal redemption, and the Russian Orthodox sense of gloom before the final cataclysm, and narrated the gospel, with commentary from Revelations through Slavic musical and liturgical conventions; Tan Dun's Water Passion (at the Barbican in 2000) kept Bach's chorus and soloists, but pared down the narrative to token texts and embedded the music in a visually exquisite performance that involved water and light. On first hearing, Golijov’s heavily Latin American version has similar superficial similarities with Bach's Matthew Passion, and none of the emotional heft.
Golijov, like Bach, uses a chorus as both commentators and the crowd and has individual voices narrate the gospel text, sing the words of characters in the gospel and express reactions to events; and there are reflective poetic texts from other sources. But there is no Christus or Evangelist: words are set according to their theme, so that the high soprano sings, perhaps, all the most spiritual texts, for example, a lament to the moon as Christ is tried by the High Priest; and smaller ensembles of singers emerge from the chorus. Most of the singers also dance, in a format that slightly recalls Bernstein's Mass. The music is also predominantly based on Latin American dance forms, which echo the sarabandes and other dance forms in Bach's passions, at times strikingly, just as Piazzolla's tangos do. But there is less to grab you by the throat than there is in either Bach or Piazzolla. The procession to Golgotha is a stirring choral bacchanal in samba form, but it leads to a comparatively perfunctory crucifixion and death and a low-key choral Kaddish.
The singers, chorus and orchestra were, though, completely committed and often seemed to add emotion and uplift that wasn't quite there in the music. The Venezuelan conductor, Maria Guinand, was fully in control but left plenty of room for passion.