Good music from Good Friday

These thoughts appear around Good Friday, the day when Christians reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus and his subsequent resurrection three days later, on Easter Sunday. That’s also a red letter day for many youngsters who can then indulge in their symbolically related, but more secular passion for chocolate eggs.

The 72-hour period is typically observed by the faithful from a meditative standpoint, but not always from inside an ecclesiastical building, as in the case of Wagner’s opera Parsifal (Naxos Historical 8.110221-24), during which the legendary title hero experiences the Good Friday Spell in Act 3 (disc 4, track 7), when nature suddenly appears transfigured by love and the regaining of innocence. The cited performance is the first complete recording of Parsifal, made in 1951 at the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth by a cast of distinguished soloists and the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra under Hans Knappertsbusch – so it probably doesn’t get more religiously authentic than that.

8.572696Also connecting with the Easter theme is a new release this month of Penderecki’s Piano Concerto (Naxos 8.572696), featuring soloist Barry Douglas and the Warsaw Philharmonic conducted by Antoni Wit. It carries the subtitle Resurrection to reflect the hymn-like melody that gradually rises to the foreground before emerging with striking power at the work’s overwhelming climax, delivered by a huge orchestra that includes triple wind and a whole battery of percussion. A previous release in the series of Penderecki’s orchestral music includes his Horn Concerto (Naxos 8.572482), which received unreserved praise from some quarters:

“…the Horn Concerto of 2008 is drop-dead gorgeous…get this stunningly played and recorded disc, as well as the others in this important and worthy series…any of Antoni Wit’s Penderecki recordings for Naxos deserves recognition: they are uniformly superb.” (David Hurwitz – ClassicsToday.com)

Having passed away ten years ago this month at the grand age of 99, the spirit of Goffredo Petrassi rises again in this month’s new release of his music (Naxos 8.572411) including the Quattro inni sacri (Four Sacred Hymns), works he described as “music of today for the faithful of today.” The last in the set, Salvete Christi vulnera (Hail, wounds of Christ) is made particularly evocative by Petrassi’s skilful handling of the colours and textures weaving around the baritone’s powerful solo line.

For many, the approach to Easter just wouldn’t feel complete without hearing a performance of The Crucifixion, an oratorio by the English composer John Stainer. The work was written for St Marylebone Parish Church in London where it has been performed every Good Friday since its première in 1887. You can access a complete performance of the work by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge directed by Tim Brown on Naxos 8.557624.

Alternatively, you can just dip a toe into the work by listening to a single item, God so loved the world, which is included on another of this month’s 572540bk Psalms EU_572540bk Psalmsnew releases, Psalms and Motets for Reflection (Naxos 8.572540). The disc is a spiritual cocktail that not only combines choral elements from Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and mediæval traditions, but also draws on a mix of repertoire from around the world, ranging from German Johannes Eccard’s 16th-century When to the temple Mary went to the eddying lines of Scotsman James McMillan’s A New Song, written in 1997. The choir of St John’s, Elora is directed by Noel Edison.8.573092

All of which leads to our final new release (Naxos 8.573092) of sacred music composed by Mozart while in the service of Archbishop Colleredo at his court in Salzburg when still only 17 years old. The two short mass settings and Regina Coeli “lift the spirits and are a joy to perform,” in the words of Andrew Lucas, who directs the St Albans Cathedral Choir.

“It was therefore an easy decision to choose to record these examples of our core repertoire,” says Lucas, “and to have the luxury of performing with musicians using instruments from the classical period, who give a truer picture of balance, blend and colour of the instruments and voices in this truly exuberant music.

“I love these settings which, to me, already reveal Mozart’s greatness and are a foretaste of even greater things to come.”

Finally, if you have a spare 30 minutes for reflection, why not settle down and listen to the seasonal chorale preludes J. S. Bach wrote for use during Passiontide and Easter (Naxos 8.553032), as included in his Orgelbüchlein (The Little Organ Book).