FRANK MARTIN Gol­go­tha (Harmonia Mundi)

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos -

In 1945, the Swiss com­poser Frank Martin found him­self in­spired by Rem­brandt’s etch­ing The Three Crosses — or, more pre­cisely, by the three states of that etch­ing, which sug­gest dif­fer­ing re­ac­tions to the cru­ci­fix­ion scene. “Once I had seen th­ese etch­ings,” he wrote, “I was pos­i­tively haunted by the idea of re­al­iz­ing an im­age of the Pas­sion with my own re­sources.” For three years, he worked on his French or­a­to­rio Gol­go­tha, strug­gling against fears that he was un­wor­thy to cre­ate a work that might be com­pared to Bach’s St. Matthew Pas­sion. He needn’t have wor­ried; no­body is likely to place them in the same league, ex­cept to note Martin’s ob­vi­ous Bachian ref­er­ences. Gol­go­tha re­mains at the edge of the choral reper­toire but is hardly un­known, this new two-CD set be­ing the sixth record­ing of it in the past decade. Daniel Reuss leads a firmly ex­e­cuted read­ing with the Es­to­nian Na­tional Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, the Es­to­nian Phil­har­monic Cham­ber Choir, Cap­pella Am­s­ter­dam, and a pas­sel of ad­e­quate soloists. The score is dense, slow, and cheer­less, as one might ex­pect of an or­a­to­rio that med­i­tates on 10 high points of Holy Week via Gospel nar­ra­tives and mus­ings by St. Au­gus­tine. En­tirely tonal but leav­ened with in­ter­est­ing har­monic touches on the sur­face, it sounds rather like Poulenc in a bad mood. I don’t care for the piece, but if you’ve been spending time this week con­tem­plat­ing Sta­tions of the Cross, this record­ing might be for you. — James M. Keller

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