La Pasión Según San Marcos

La Pasión Según San Marcos [UK premiere]

Jesus – Reynaldo Gonzáles Fernández
Jazz Singer – Luciana Souza
Capoeira Mestre – Deraldo Ferreira
Anne-Carolyn Bird (soprano)

Schola Cantorum of Caracas

Orquesta La Pasión
Maria Guinand

Reviewed by: Edward Lewis

Reviewed: 24 February, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

In a blue haze, in front of a hushed, expectant and thoroughly curious audience, the collective form of the Schola Cantorum of Caracas stood poised to take us on a South American journey under the audacious and vibrant leadership of Maria Guinand. Osvaldo Golijov has been described as on of the truly great composers of the 21st century – perhaps a somewhat dubious compliment for 2006, and one that certainly depends on your musical predilections. But there is no doubt that Golijov has already made an impact on the music of this century, and that is in no small measure due to his monumental retelling of the St Mark Passion.

And the success of “La Pasión Según San Marcos” is, in turn, due to the sheer artistic force created by the Schola Cantorum of Caracas – an amateur choir that devotes a large portion of energy to both working extremely closely with the composer and with poverty-stricken communities in the singers’ home country. I suspect that the vitality they bring to their performance stems from this grass-roots approach to their music.

In terms of sheer variety, an audience couldn’t hope for more. A basic chamber orchestra, huddled atmospherically in the centre of the stage, was augmented by assorted brass, more assorted percussion, a solo accordionist, and, best of all, (and top of my Christmas wish-list), a berimbau – a sort of Brazilian single-stringed bass instrument rather resembling a fishing rod. This ensemble, looking like something out of a Tim Burton film, was closely miked, but never too loud, with a mix favouring the bass instruments, especially the otherwise easily overlooked lone double bass.

In terms of musical style, this was a dazzling display of variety. Despite initial hints of Adams-esque tonal minimalism, it wasn’t long before Latin-American rhythms had picked the music up, got it drunk on tequila, and bounced it straight into Mambo. Recipe: throw in some mock-recitative, some beautifully performed jazz (I can hear the sound of cardinals keeling over at the very thought of Judas as a jazz-singer), and a thick layer of European romantic functional harmony; leave to bake in the Venezuelan sun for 90 minutes.

More memorable than anything else, though, was the all pervasive rhythm. Constructed of ostinatos, irregular compound time patterns and a host of Afro-Cuban beats, it was this that provided the magic emerging out of the initial blue haze.

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