A crucial work by the late Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020), the St. Luke Passion was performed by the MSO as the season opener at the Festival de Lanaudière, and then a few days later in Krakow and Salzburg, under the direction of Kent Nagano. Penderecki was unequivocally delighted: “It was fantastic. His direction seemed to me very classical, very clean and not very dramatic. I really appreciated this very lyrical direction,” he told me in an interview the day after the European concerts, given in his presence. This is precisely what some might reproach: the relative clarity and tenacity of the drama. This is precisely what a conductor must do, with a work of this scale: give it a distinct style while respecting the score. Yet such a contemporary work, imagined in the mid-1960s despite its sacred character and the Christian faith of its creator, gives the performers greater freedom than a classical work in the pre-contemporary repertoire. Nagano is not given to dramatic paroxysm, his approach – naturally inclined to the meditative virtues of music, necessarily more reserved and intellectual – does not suit all the performers who work under his baton… which sometimes leads to underwhelming performances. Not in this case. This recording of the concert in July 2018 at the Salzburg Festival reveals all the qualities of the work and at the same time, expresses the singularity of Nagano’s conducting. Himself a child of the countercultural California of the 1960s, the MSO maestro knew how to whip up a froth at the right moment (for there are extremely intense moments in this performance), and choose a certain purity in the more spiritual passages of this St Luke Passion. Thus soloists Sarah Wegener (soprano), Lucas Meachem (baritone), Matthew Rose (bass), Slawomir Holland (narration), with the Warsaw Boys’ Choir and the Krakow Philharmonic Choir, are for the most part firmly invested in this titanic work, at once very contemporary and atypical of the 1960s for its sacred dimension.
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