LUKASZEWSKI Via crusis • Stephen Layton, cond; Iestyn Davies (ct); Allan Clayton (ten); Andrew Foster-Williams (bar); Roger Allam (nar); Polyphony; Britten Snf • HYPERION 67724 (55: 24)
The harrowing journey of Christ with the Cross—or Via crucis—is possibly most famously documented in music by Liszt. Meurig Bowen’s excellent booklet note reminds us that Marcel Dupré penned his Le chemin de la croixRead more as his op. 29 for organ, and William Mathias structured his Organ Concerto on the 14 stations. Lukaszewski, unlike Liszt and Dupré, includes the final 15th Station, that for the empty tomb and the resurrection.
Pawel Lukaszewski was born in 1968 in the southern Polish town of Czestochowa, home of the Black Madonna presently resident in the Jasna Góra monastery, a relic that attracts a huge number of pilgrims and remains a vital part of the nation’s being. Lech Walesa donated his Nobel Prize medal to the monastery in 1982; Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass on the monastery steps in 1979. There is a previous Lukaszewski issue on Hyperion 67639, a disc that presents a sequence of shorter works written between 1992 and 2007. There again, the conductor is Stephen Layton. Polyphony has scored previous hits with tremendously popular discs of Morten Lauridsen (Lux aeterna, 67140) and Eric Whitacre (Cloudburst, 67543).
The soloists take on various roles: countertenor takes on Evangelist; the tenor sings Pilate and the prophet Simeon; and the baritone is Jesus. The use of a countertenor as Evangelist is effective, especially with Iestyn Davies, whose pure but plaintive voice takes on a haunted, otherworldly quality, especially telling as he describes the piercing of Christ’s side at the cross (Station XIII). Lukaszewski associated each voice with an instrument: the high countertenor part is doubled by bass clarinet; the Christus part is “shadowed” by an alto flute. There is also a memorable pianissimo passage for solo voices from the choir (a setting of Isaiah 53:4–5, “Surely he has borne our griefs”).
Roger Allam, an associate artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company, is a clear, confident Narrator. Allan Clayton’s voice is beautiful of tone in Station IV (the prophet Simeon sings Luke 2: 34–35, “Behold, he is set for the fall”). Andrew Foster-Williams, the baritone who takes the role of Christ, portrays a saddened, mournful, but wise figure.
There is something very Orffian about the opening (think “O fortuna”). Minimalist elements touch Lukaszewski’s writing also. Lukaszewski sets the text in Latin, emphasizing the sense of ritual. Structurally, repetition is vital to Lukaszewski’s interpretation of the Stations, something heard in microcosm in the minimalist-tinged passages. A recurring transition between each Station scored for woodwind quartet against open fifths in the horns and lower strings is based on a Polish folk tune. These are deliberately neutral passages; they sound blanched, almost mechanical. The composer refers to these moments as “the reset function,” and they offset the intimate or dramatic nature of the music around them.
The dynamic range of the recording easily supports the climactic moments; it also renders every detail of the almost whispered passages (as towards the end of Station IX, or the extended Station XII, the station that portrays Christ’s death). It is, in fact, a magnificent sonic spectacle. The producer is Adrian Peacock, himself a superb bass singer.