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The Greek Passion

Soloists of Welsh National Opera/Brno State Philharmonic Orchestra/Czech Philharmonic Chorus/Sir Charles Mackerras
Supraphon 10 3611-2 [114' 55"]
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Bohuslav Martinu had condensed and adapted the novel Christ Recrucified by Nikos Kazantzakis to construct the English libretto for his unconventional work, intended for Covent Garden in the 1950s and championed then by its music director, Rafael Kubelik. In 1957 it was however rejected by the Covent Garden Board for what now seem rather flimsy reasons. Criticisms led to a drastic reworking during the last two years of Bohuslav Martinu's life. The through-composed second version, given in this recording, was only premiered in Zurich after his death in 1959.

Martinu's method helps to make the text audible and intelligible at all times, dispensing with the need for the text in the liner notes. It succeeds in getting across moral arguments dressed in religious terms. Broad themes borrowed from Christian mythology are interwoven with historical and political elements. An established, but amoral, hierarchy, represented by the priest Grigoris, shores up its authority with pomp. The refugees, who are led by their priest Folis, represent the counterpart to this established order. They are dispossessed but moral authority is vested in them.

Caught between these two conflicting poles are the villagers. For some of them, especially Manolios, the Christ in the village Passion Play and Katerina as their Mary Magdalene, this conflict becomes intensely personal. For all of them chosen the responsibility towards, and understanding of, the Gospels become more than a play for acting in. They are led to enact 'The Word'.

This is a 1981 recording of the revised version of Martinu's last opera, not performed in his lifetime, and in the original version not until its triumphant restoration at Covent Garden reviewed by Seen&Heard in April 2000.

This Supraphon recording of The Greek Passion, in the original English, is a great success. The singers include John Mitchinson, John Tomlinson, Arthur Davies, Geoffrey Moses, Helen Field and many stalwarts of the Welsh company. The Czech orchestra is in fine form and the playing idiomatic and committed. The chorus is a chief protagonist in this complex interaction of two religious groups, each with its Priest, the ostracism of refugees firing the drama and the local singers make a vivid contribution. The words are all admirably clear and the argument easy to follow. The engineers capture the perspectives and distances well, helping to make it an involving experience for the listener.

Until the restored original version is revived at Covent Garden, as it is sure to be, and then recorded, hopefully, this Supraphon double-CD can be recommended as containing the essence of the work, given with the energy and conviction which Sir Charles Mackerras brings to every project.


Peter Grahame Woolf








Peter Grahame Woolf

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