A Saint Luke Passion - Andrew Downes (1950 - )

A St Luke Passion is in two parts. Part one begins with the Last Supper. The music is very tender and yet has an underlying feel of foreboding, bringing out the emotion which Christ must have surely felt when he saw his death approaching and also knew the destiny of man. His feelings are expressed throughout the work in the very heart-rending orchestral accompaniments.
The baritone soloist takes the role of Christ, while the choir narrates the storyline and also acts the part of the crowds, the disciples, and other parts. They also have three unaccompanied chorales in which they comment on the events, singing in Latin; firstly when Judas betrays Christ they sing a setting of the words from the Tenebrae Responses, "Judas mercatur pessimus" (The wicked merchant Judas sought out the Lord with a kiss); secondly when Christ dies on the cross a setting of "Tenebrae factae sunt" (There was a darkness when the Jews crucified Jesus); and at the end of the whole work they sing a jubilant "Credo in unum Deum".
The orchestra also has its role. It conveys all the emotions which this story contains and which cannot be expressed in words, heightening our awareness of them. A sublime example is when Jesus addresses the women in the crowd on his way to his crucifixion in the aria "Daughters of Jerusalem". It is their fate rather than his own which breaks his heart. A meandering passage on a solo violin, echoed by the piano duet, conveys the intense sadness, while low ostinato passages on  the low strings suggest a menacing fear of the future.   
Part one is bought to a close with the death of Christ and the choir's choral "Tenabrae factae sunt".
Part two begins with dawn breaking on Sunday morning. From the first bars in the orchestra the mood has changed. There is hope, wonderment and serenity in the music. Mary Magdelene and Mary the Mother of James find the tomb empty and are told by the angels of the resurrection of Christ. Then Christ himself converses with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and they invite him to supper. The music of the opening of the work (the Last Supper) returns as Jesus breaks bread at their table, and they suddenly recognise him.
The music bubbles with joy as they return to Jerusalem to tell their friends, and they find Jesus again standing among them. A very beautiful aria full of hope and comfort follows: "Everything written about me was bound to be fulfilled". The work builds up to its climax here. The emotional atmosphere is highly charged as Christ parts from them. They they go away with great joy to the temple and praise God. The choir end the work with a majestic setting of "Credo in unum Deum" (I believe in God). Full of exuberance, the "Credo" sums up the beliefs of the followers of Christ ever since that day: that Christ came to the world to save sinners, he rose to heaven and sits at the right hand of God.

 Cynthia Downes


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