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Hyperion Records

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Good Friday (2002) by Maggi Hambling (b1945)
Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67796
Recording details: April 2010
All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by David Hinitt
Release date: March 2011
Total duration: 27 minutes 37 seconds

'Ešenvalds displays an impressive command and variety of musical language … soloist, choir and strings are first-rate' (Choir & Organ)

'Ešenvalds responds to the purpose of the words he sets, occupying similar choral territory to the likes of Whitacre and Shchedrin, character rather than ego dominating … Ešenvalds favours the upper voices, giving them luminous, floating melodies against backgrounds that set them in shimmering relief or throw mysterious, penumbrous cloaks around them. Polyphony typically balances beauty of timbre with precise articulation and empathy with the texts' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Within seconds I knew I was going to adore this CD and the music of Eriks Ešenvalds … this is a performance of considerable impact, not least in the second movement when the electrifying choral cries of 'Crucify' dissolve so magically into calm, plainchant-inspired music above which Carolyn Sampson floats with angelic luminosity … if the music wasn't so utterly gorgeous, I would happily devote several hundred words to praising Stephen Layton for these totally absorbing performances. Along with Polyphony, he set the benchmark long ago, and while this is as good as anything they've ever committed to disc, the real praise here has to be reserved for Eriks Ešenvalds, whose music clearly warrants a great deal more exposure' (International Record Review)

Passion and Resurrection
2005; first performed by Maris Sirmais and the State Choir Latvija; Part 1 quotes Parce mihi by Morales
author of text
various Gospel texts, plus texts from the Byzantine Liturgy, Tenebrae Resonsory for Maundy Thursday, Stabat mater, and the Psalm

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Before realizing his true vocation lay in music, Ešenvalds studied for two years in a Baptist seminary, and he remains deeply committed to the church, serving as director of music for the Vilande Baptist Congregation in Riga. The most substantial product to date of his profound religious faith, Passion and Resurrection was written in 2005 and premiered by Ma_ris Sirmais and the State Choir Latvija. Eschewing the single narrative perspective that characterizes the great Passion settings of the past, the composer has assembled an interlocking mosaic of texts from the gospels, from Byzantine and Roman liturgies, and from the Old Testament. The result (though given a seamless continuity by the music) is fragmentary—a series of snapshots, the tale told elliptically (if directly), combining action and reflection in equal measure; linear chronology is not always strictly observed, and the story begins with a fallen woman acknowledging the divinity of Jesus, and ends with Mary Magdalene (who may be that same fallen woman) recognizing the risen Christ. This circularity (and there are similar echoes and pre-echoes within the narrative) serves to emphasize that these are not historical events but are occurring in an eternal present, just as the passion and resurrection of Christ are re-enacted and re-experienced by Christians every week.

There are no designated characters in the piece: the chorus voices the words of Jesus and reports on events. The prominent solo soprano is a distinctively Marian and maternal presence, as the woman who anoints Christ’s feet, as the visionary Mary Magdalene, and as a tenderly sympathetic observer of Jesus and his mother’s suffering. The string ensemble by turns amplifies the choral textures, offers a static underpinning with sustained drones, and subtly undercuts the vocal message with ironic counterpoints of its own.

The work is in four parts, each prefaced by lines from scripture, which play without a break. Part I opens with four solo voices singing a setting of Parce mihi by the sixteenth-century Spaniard Cristóbal de Morales; seemingly preludial, this objet trouvé is soon established as an important other-worldly presence as gently dissonant string chords are laid over it, and the solo quartet returns subsequently with Morales-derived material, always a hauntingly alien feature in the musical landscape. The soprano recitative that follows is both lamenting and ecstatic, supported by long-drawn string textures which reveal the distinctive harmonic tincture of the work—fluidly modal, flecked with chromaticism, and inclined to downwards semitonal step-movement in the bass. The choral benediction that ends this section has a beatific calm, though as it dissolves into whispers uncertainty returns with an uneasily transparent string chorale.

Part II begins with open-fifth drones in the lower instruments, anchoring the restless lament of the choir in a static D minor, sardonic violin figures offering their own dissident commentary. As the drama intensifies, the sense of foreboding increases, with downward harmonic shifts and greater chromatic density. There is a pounding muscularity to this account of Jesus’s humiliation which culminates in hammered shouts of ‘crucify’, haloed by a shrieking string texture ‘imitating extremely nervous clamours of seagulls’ (the composer instructs). After a fortissimo call for forgiveness, ‘they know not what they do’, subject to multiple repetitions, the solo quartet returns, their tonal certainties anointed with healing balm from the soprano, though as the chorus murmurs a Latin version of the quartet’s words, instability returns as the strings tell a different harmonic story.

Part III has a simple rondo structure. Over an ‘eternal’ pedal C, the soloist offers up an extended meditation, ambiguous in modality and embellished with grace notes and glissandi, while a single violin provides an agitated, flickering descant. Twice the soloist is answered by the choir with luminous diatonic clarity, as two lone sopranos soar to seraphic heights; the second time around this blissful resignation erupts into anguished cries and the final grieving is shared by the soloist and the choir, the strings adding to the desolation with subtle enrichments of the voicing. Again, the solo quartet has the last word, as Jesus gives up his spirit.

The melismatic, rapturous unaccompanied solo that opens Part IV is echoed by hushed choral chanting, cushioned by strings. The landscape is bare, as sighing pairs of chords haltingly descend over an inner pedal. The dazzling moment when ‘the Lord is risen’ is exultant and brief; there is a hiatus of uncertainty before the act of recognition that is the crux of the matter is heralded by the solo quartet. Their rapt repetitions of ‘Mariam’ draw in the choir, hesitant at first yet ultimately glowing as they settle into a gentle oscillation of two chords; the voice of Mary Magdalene soars above them with quiet radiance. Over and over again they call to each other, hypnotic and serene, as a luminescent string chorale slowly ascends to the heights. Yet there is an ambiguity at the very end—which of the two chords is perceived as the ‘tonic’? This lack of finality is essential, for the story must, and will, begin again.

from notes by Gabriel Jackson © 2011

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