Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933)
St Luke Passion
Surprising as it now seems, the appearance in 1962 of theStabat Mater by Krysztof Penderecki caused something of a furore in avant-gardemusic circles. Coming after radical orchestral works such as Threnody for theVictims of Hiroshima (1961) and Fluorescences (1962) [both Naxos 8.554491], thestark simplicity and emotional directness of the choral piece led, not for thelast time in the composer's career, to accusations of being reactionary andturning his back on musical progress. Four decades on, the Stabat Mater canclearly be seen as initiating the consolidation and synthesis that Pendereckiwas to pursue thereafter, to varying degrees and on different levels.
It is also worth bearing in mind Penderecki's stance, as aprogressive composer in the conformist environment of post-Stalinist Poland,and as a devout Catholic in a nominally atheist society. The Stabat Mater wasamong the first open expressions of faith in Poland since the Second World War,and Penderecki did not hesitate to incorporate it into a more comprehensiveexpression of his faith when the opportunity arose. In 1964 West German Radiocommissioned a large-scale choral work to commemorate the seven hundredthanniversary of the consecration of Munster Cathedral: the Passio et mors Domininostri Iesu Christi secundum Lucam, to give the St Luke Passion its full Latintitle, was the outcome. That the year of its premi?¿re on 30th March 1966 alsomarked the thousandth anniversary of the introduction of Christianity intoPoland, is a fact of which Penderecki must have been well aware.
Scored for soprano, baritone and bass soloists, narrator,chorus, boys' chorus and orchestra, the St Luke Passion takes as it model thePassions of Bach: the events leading up to the Crucifixion related in an ongoingsequence of narratives, arias and choruses, with the narrator taking the r??leof the Evangelist, and the solo singers assuming those of Christ, Peter, Pilateand other biblical figures as necessary. The text supplements Luke's gospelwith a range of extracts from psalms, hymns and antiphons, giving the narrativean emotional force it might otherwise lack. Moreover the diversity of choraland orchestral techniques employed was to prove paradigmatic for the successionof choral works Penderecki has since composed, Dies irae (1967), Kosmagonia(1970), Utrenja (1971), Magnificat (1973), Te Deum (1979), Polish Requiem(1984), Seven Gates of Jerusalem (1996) and Credo (1998).
Part I opens with choir, organ and orchestra defiantlysounding out 'O Crux' at the start of Hymnus , sub-divided, microtonal andchanted choral writing contributing to the supplicatory feel. The narratordescribes Christ's coming down from the Mount of Olives in Et egressus , andthe bass expands on his dread in the aria Deus meus . The sopranointensifies the anxiety in the aria Domine, quis habitabit , complemented byfebrile flute and brass, then lower strings and brass graphically depict thebetrayal and taking of Jesus, expounded by baritone and narrator at Adhuc eoloquente . Solemn choral settings from Lamentations at Ierusalem , andPsalms at Ut quid, Domine , presage Peter's denial at Comprehendentes autem .After an aria of entreaty to the Lord, Iudica me, Domine , the mockingbefore the High Priest is vividly introduced by rushing strings and woodwind,and depicted by rasping chorus at Et viri, qui tenebant illum . The sopranonow plangently recalls the imploration to Ierusalem , while the choruslooks for mercy in an impassioned Miserere mei, Deus . Part I ends with thescene of Jesus before Pilot at Et surgens omnis , narrator, baritone andchorus underpinned by striking orchestration to powerfully dramatic effect.
Part II opens with a sombre choral depiction of the Way ofthe Cross to Golgotha at In pulverem mortis , joined by the narrator at Etbaiulens sibi crucem , before the sustained passacaglia of Popule meus ,an emotional highpoint of the Passion and a telling example of Penderecki'sdeployment of advanced musical techniques to elicit timeless expression. TheCrucifixion is simply and movingly depicted at Ibi crucifixerunt eum , thenunfolded in searching terms by soprano in the aria Crux fidelis . Christ'sforgiveness is noted at Dividentes vero , then the chorus vividly imaginesthe humiliation of the body in an extended setting of In pulverem mortis .The mocking of Christ on the Cross is depicted in suitably harsh terms at Etstabat populus , then the bass and baritone recall the contrasting responsesof the thieves at Unus autem  Christ's entreaty to the three Marys atStabant autem  prepares for the extended unaccompanied setting of StabatMater  an expressive and musical distillation of the emotional chargepervading the whole work. The Death of Christ is summarily depicted at Eratautem fere hora sexta , then apostrophized in moving orchestral terms ,before the Passion draws to a conclusion with In Te, Domine, speravi ,soloists, chorus and orchestra joining in a powerful call for deliverance andredemption.