Last fall, a series of modern masterworks were premiered as the capstone of the yearlong commemoration of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach. Four settings of the Good Friday narrative were commission by four of the worlds leading composers: Sofia Gubaidulina, Tan Dun, Osvaldo Golijov and Wolfgang Rihm.
First to be released by the international award winning Hänssler Classic label is Wolfgang Rihms transcendent requiem of Reconciliation, DEUS PASSUS.
For those familiar with Rihms earlier work, DEUS PASSUS constitutes a new direction in his stylistic development. Absent are the violent juxtapositions and bold gestures of Rihms earlier work. In their place, a delicate, carefully chosen almost impressionistic palette has been selected. This impressionistic approach applies equally to the texts that Rihm selected to set. Consciously selecting St. Lukes account of Jesus death, specifically for its lack of anti-Semitic content, Rihm deleted all non dialogue material and supplemented his Passion fragment with selections from the Catholic lectionary, the Stabat Mater and poetic interpolations, concluding with a moving setting of Paul Celans inverted prayer, TENEBRAE.
Grammy Award winning conductor, Helmuth Rilling delivers one of the finest performances of his career, directing the Gachinger Kantorei, the Bach-Collegium Stuttgart and stellar soloists Juliane Banse, Iris Vermillion, Cornelia Kallisch, Christoph Prégardien and Andreas Schmidt in a score that rightfully takes its place with the 20th centurys other great St. Luke Passion, the Penderecki Passio et more domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Lucam.
Wolfgang Rihm, one of Germany's leading composers, here plants himself in Bach's footsteps with a version of the St. Luke Passion. Rihm emphasizes spirituality in this calm unfolding of the drama. Five vocal soloists take the parts traditionally assigned to the Evangelist and Jesus; their lines are often broken into phrases taken by each singer. While alluding to his eminent predecessor, Rihm's music is thoroughly contemporary, though nowhere approaching iconoclastic avant-garde. He intersperses the Gospel text with liturgical hymns, a passage from Isaiah and a Stabat Mater, and closes the work with a setting of Paul Celan's poem Tenebrae.
Overall, the work impresses with its seriousness, its refusal to sensationalize or strive for effect, and its largely successful effort to adapt a traditional form to our times. This recording was made at the concert premiere, and Helmut Rilling, who commissioned the work, leads an intense performance that sustains interest throughout its hour and a half. Orchestra and chorus are fine, the soloists outstanding. -- Dan Davis