Easter is the major event in the Christian calendar, but for the unbelievers and the music lovers, it is above all the time of the great Passions composed by Bach, Wagner's Parsifal, Mahler's Symphony "Resurrection" and Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana.
At the heart of the New Testament, the episodes of the Christ's crucifixion and resurrection are highly important to Christian beliefs. That is why lots of works from the sacred music repertoire refer to the episodes of Jesus's "Passion", on the basis of the stories narrated by the apostles—Georg Philipp Telemann alone composed 46 "Passions"! Bach's monumental St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion are part of the masterpieces of the sacred musical literature. Those works, that last two hours for the first one and three hours for the second one, are musical "dramas" that are still considered as milestones from the composer's repertoire. We offer you here to discover the St. John Passion under the baton of the Japanese conductor Masaaki Suzuki, a disciple of Ton Koopman and a Bach-specialist. Masaaki Suzuki is a member of the Protestant Church of Japan, a tiny minority (only 1% of the Japanese people are Christian). We also suggest you two different versions of St. Matthew Passion: the one conducted by John Nelson at the Basilique Saint-Denis near Paris and the one conducted by Georg Christoph Biller at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, where Bach was the cantor for over 20 years, from 1723 to his death in 1750. This Passion had been precisely composed for this church and had been premiered with its children choir. Here, the young Thomanerchor, joined by the Gewandhaus Orchestra from Leipzig, performs this masterpiece by Bach.
During the same period, Handel composed an oratorio named The Messiah that tells Jesus's life according to the Bible, in particular his resurrection. This is a gigantic work, rarely performed in its entire form. Instead of showing you an entire version of that work, we chose to broadcast a master class led by Simon Carrington, who teaches the wonderful choral parts of this oratorio to young chorus masters. A specialist of Handel's music, Carrington explains in a two-hour programme of interviews and master classes his whole point of view about this work.
Mahler's Symphony No. 2 named "Resurrection", although not directly referring to the Christ, also alludes to the resurrection celebrated by the Christians. In this playlist we suggest you several versions of this second symphony, not because we couldn't make a choice, but because we wished to present you different reference versions of the work. First, the one conducted by Claudio Abbado: the conductor made his debuts with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Wiener Philharmoniker in Salzburg with this score, aged only 32 at that time. An expert of Mahler's music, Claudio Abbado conducted at the end of his career a series of concerts dedicated to the composer. Most of those concerts took place at the Lucerne Festival (as this is the case for this concert). We shall point out the fact that among the numerous projects he led, Claudio Abbado founded a youth orchestra that he named the "Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra". Then the version conducted by Pierre Boulez: the French conductor and composer is as much linked to Mahler's work as Claudio Abbado, indeed he also had recorded a full version of the composer's symphonies, a recording he began with the Deutsche Grammophon in the 90's and finished almost a decade later. In the version we offer you to discover, the superstar soprano Diana Damrau is singing alongside Petra Lang and the Staatskapelle Berlin. You'll also discover the versions conducted by Riccardo Chailly, Alan Gilbert (who conducted the symphony in New York as a tribute to the victims of the attacks of September 11th) and an exceptional archive of Georg Solti, a Mahler-specialist during the 1960s.
Inspired by multiple medieval legends, Richard Wagner composed his Parsifal to be premiered in Bayreuth in 1882. Its plot widely alludes to the Grail and the quest, a recurrent theme in the literature of the Middle Age. The Holy Grail, according to the Bible, would be the cup in which Jesus would have drunk during the Last Supper. In Tony Palmer's documentary, Plácido Domingo talks about one of Wagner's most successful operas. Moreover, you will discover numerous extracts of this opera performed by the tenor himself, Violeta Urmana, the conductor Valery Gergiev and a very young Anna Netrebko!
As for Cavalleria rusticana, its story takes place on an Easter Sunday and in this staging by Giancarlo del Monaco we can see processions like those we can see in Sicily. How remarkable it is!
Bach Collegium Japan
With Werner Güra (The Evangelist) and Stephen Morscheck (Jesus) – Orchestre de Chambre de Paris
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Thomanerchor
Lucerne Festival 2003
A concert for New York with the New York Philharmonic
Orchestre national de l'ORTF, Heather Harper (soprano), Helen Watts (contralto)
Jesús Lopez Cobos, Giancarlo del Monaco – Violeta Urmana (Santuzza), María Bayo (Nedda) – Teatro Real Madrid
With Plácido Domingo, Violeta Urmana, Anna Netrebko...