3rd Sunday of Lent 2014: Eriks Ešenvalds (b1977) – Passion and Resurrection

Eriks EšenvaldsEriks Ešenvalds’ Passion and Resurrection was written in 2005 and premiered by Maris Sirmais and the State Choir Latvija. It recounts the Passion using a series of viewpoints that Ešenvalds connects musically to create an integrated whole. Even if you feel that modern choral music isn’t for you I’d encourage you to give this piece a try you may be very pleasantly surprised.   It’s written in four parts that succeed each other without interruption and each of which is prefaced by lines from scripture and interwoven with quotations from by the sixteenth-century Spanish composer Cristóbal de Morales’ setting of Parce Mihi. The piece requires an expert choir and makes heavy demands on the soprano soloist but when the choir is the English choir ‘Polyphony’ under their conductor Stephen Layton and the soprano soloist is Carolyn Sampson the demands of the piece are handled masterfully and convincingly. I wonder why it is that so many singers who specialise in Medieval, Renaissance, or Baroque music have such an affinity for modern music. Whatever the reason we benefit from Carolyn Sampson’s sympathetic and supremely confident singing here. Passion and Resurrection made a strong impression on me when I first heard it and I enjoy it more and more with each listening, I hope you will too.


Part I: Parce mihi, Domine

The piece opens with a setting of Cristóbal de Morales’ Parce mihi followed by a soprano recitative that combines lamentation and ecstasy and is followed by a beatific choral benediction. 

Part II: My soul Is Very Sorrowful

The second part of Ešenvalds’ Passion and Resurrection begins with lower instrument drones – the effect is one of foreboding and restlessness and this feeling of is taken up by the choir. As Christ’s Passion progresses the feeling of foreboding becomes ever more intense culminating in shouts from the crowd of ‘crucify crucify’. The repeated call for forgiveness ‘they know not what they do‘ is followed by the return of the solo quartet whose words are echoed in Latin by the choir.

Part III: At thy mystic Supper

The soloist’s meditation ‘At thy mystic Supper, admit me to thy communion, O Son of God …‘ is set against a violin descant. The choir responds to the soloist twice in musical moments of perfect clarity and the two soloist soar upwards but this soon gives way to cries of anguish shared by soloists and choir alike. As Jesus gives up his spirit the quartet has the last word.

Part IV: O dulce lignum

The final part of Ešenvalds’ Passion and Resurrection opens with an enraptured solo that is echoed in the choral chanting. The musical landscape is bleak and stark relieved only briefly by shouted jubilation when Christ rises – ‘the Lord is risen …‘ the Magdalene’s recognition of the Risen Christ is heralded by the solo quartet who repetitions of her name ‘Mariam, Mariam, Mariam’ draw in the choir the effect is hypnotic and somehow luminous, as is the soaring radiant voice of Mary Magdalene rising above them like a gentle sunrise. Again and again they call to one another quietly triumphant and serene as the accompanying string chorale like a soul released from sin and death ascends the height like a lark in clear air singing with joy.


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Text Eriks Ešenvalds : Passion and Resurrrection

Part I: Parce mihi, Domine

Parce mihi, Domine, nihil enim sunt dies mei.
Quid est homo, quia magnificas eum?
Aut quid apponis erga eum cor tuum?
Usquequo non parcis mihi, nec dimittis me,
ut glutiam salivam meam?
Cur non tollis peccatum meum,
et quare non aufers iniquitatem meam?
Ecce nunc in pulvere dormiam;
et si mane me quaesieris, non subsistam.

Spare me, O God, for my days are as nothing.
What is man that you so exalt him?
Or why do you subject him to your scrutiny?
How long will you not let me alone nor set me free
so that I can swallow my spittal?
Why do you not remove my sin;
why do you not take away my iniquity?
For now I shall sleep in the earth;
and if you seek me in the morning, I shall be no more.

Woe is me, for my foolish love of debauchery and my cleaving to iniquity have become a deep night unto me in which no light shines.
Accept thou the wellsprings of my tears, thou who drawest the waters of the sea up into the clouds.
Turn thy countenance upon the sobbing of my heart, thou who hast come from heaven in thy inexpressible sacrifice.
I shall kiss thy immaculate feet; I shall dry them with the tresses of my hair.
In Paradise, Eve seeing them approaching, hid herself in fear.
Who will examine the multitude of my sins, and thy judgements?
O my Saviour, my Redeemer of my soul, do not turn away from me: I am thy handmaiden, thou who art infinitely merciful.

Thy sins are forgiven thee; thy faith has saved thee, go in peace!

Part II: My soul Is Very Sorrowful

My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.
My father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.

And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.
When they had plaited a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand, they spit upon him: and they have bowed the knee before him. They mocked him, saying Hail, King of the Jews!
And after they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

My friend betrayed me by the token of a kiss:
Whom I shall kiss, that is he, hold him fast!
That was the wicked token which he gave,
who by a kiss accomplished murder.
Unhappy man, he relinquished the price of blood,
and in the end hanged himself.

How great is thy love for mankind, O Lord!
Thou bent down and washed Judas’ feet, although he denied and betrayed thee!

Amicus meus osculi me tradidit signo:
Quem osculatus fuero, ipse est, tenete eum!
Hoc malum fecit signum,
qui per osculum adimplevit homicidium.
Infelix praetermisit pretium sanguinis,
et in fine laqueo se suspendit.

Part III: At thy mystic Supper

At thy mystic Supper, admit me to thy communion, O Son of God.
For I shall not betray the secret to thy enemies, nor give thee the kiss of Judas.
But, like the thief, I beseech thee, Lord: remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom!

Verily I say unto thee: today thou shalt be with me in Paradise!

The grieving Mother stood
beside the cross weeping
where her Son was hanging.

Through her weeping soul,
compassionate and grieving,
a sword passed.

Who is the man
who would not weep if seeing
the Mother of Christ in such agony?

Woman, behold thy son!
Behold thy mother!

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani?

They have pierced my hands and my feet, they have counted all my bones.
They divided my garments among them, and upon my garments they have cast lots.

The enemy hath persecuted my soul, they have smitten my life down to the ground, they have made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead.

By his stripes are we healed.

I thirst!

It is finished!

Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.

Part IV: O dulce lignum

O dulce lignum, o dulces clavos,
o dulcia ferens pondera:
quae sola fuisti digna sustinere
regem caelorum et Dominum.

O sweet wood, sweet nails,
bearing sweet burdens:
you who alone were worthy to support
the king of the heavens and the Lord.

Why seek ye among the dead, as a mortal,
the One who abides in everlasting light?
Behold the linens of burial, the Lord is risen!

Woman, why weepest thou? Woman, whom seekest thou?
Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.


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