La Pasión Según San Marcos--Osvaldo Golijov

I don't often review music here, largely because I lack the full critical apparatus to say why something is good or not so good.  But this album so fine and so unusual a treatment of its subject matter that it seemed worthy of bringing to your attention.

As many are aware, the trend in modern classical music recently has been away from the very austere and mathematically driven compositions of serialism and other "avant garde" schools of producing sound back to a kind of tonalism--polytonalism (Philip Glass, Symphony No. 2 is bitonal), microtonalism (heard in Raga, Gamelan music, and Ligeti claimed to compose in a kind of microtonalism).

This exposition of the Passion according to Saint Mark is fully tonal and includes all sorts of musical gneres.  For those used to the vaulted cathedrals of the Bach Passions or even the Penderecki Passion According to Saint Luke, this work may not be welcome.  It is unapologetically the music of the streets--guitar, percussion, voice.  There are moments in which the singing (the aria of the Agony in the Garden) when the style approaches that of fado or flamenco.  There are passages that sound much like Arabic or Moorish music.  There are poems interjected--one in Galician.  There are passages in Aramaic, there are three dances; typified by the liner notes as "Capoeria" dances, which sound to my uneducated ears much like Samba or Bossa Nova music.  Finally, there is a gorgeous Kadish that starts with a female choir echoing Jesus from the cross--"My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"  and then enters into a passage from Jeremiah in Latin--"Is it nothing to you, all ye who pass by?//Behold, Behold, and see itf there be //any sorrow like unto my sorrow."  and ends with a prayer in Aramaic:

May his Great name grow exalted and santified, Amen!
May his great name be bless forever and ever.
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, might, upraised, and lauded be the name of the Holy One

Bless is He beyond any blessing and song,
praise and consolation
that are uttered int he world.
And say Amen.
For those whose taste runs to the highly classical in Sacred Music, this is not likely to appeal. But its power and appeal to me is its common vernacular--its recounting of the sacred in the voices of people as they speak today and in the music that speaks to people today.  All of the trappings of various sacred musics are there, but certainly not the same structures or impositions one would find with Bach or other such composers.  This has its own structure, elaborate, beautiful, internally perfected and persuasive.

I loved the other work by Golijov that I've had a chance to hear--Ocean, Tenebrae, Three Songs.  And while, because I know this is not everyone's cup of tea, I would not say to run out and buy this, I will recommend that everyone run out to their local libraries and get a copy to listen to.

The aria in the clip below occurs just after Peter denies Jesus.

And this piece is La eucaristia commemorating the establishment of the Eucharist at the Last supper.

And lastly--The Paschal Lamb a la Samba


  1. Steven,

    Thanks for the tip. The library doesn't have the one you mentioned, but it has three others, one of which is _Oceana_. I put that one on reserve.


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