La Pasión según San Marcos, Barbican, London

The old-fashioned approach doesn't work
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The Independent Culture

Little of Osvaldo Golijov's music has been heard in Britain. Ayre, his visceral Sephardic, Spanish and Islamic companion piece to Berio's 1965 Folksongs, was impactful on disc; Tekyah, his lament for klezmer clarinet and shofars, filmed in Auschwitz-Birkenau for Holocaust: A Music Memorial, was thin and tasteless. Yet, in America, Golijov has been hailed as the future of classical music. This is a title no young composer should have to bear. Moreover, the London premiere of La Pasión según San Marcos - given by the redoubtable Schola Cantorum de Carácas under Maria Guinand - revealed a curiously old-fashioned approach.

Unlike John Adams, whose oratorio El Niño conjures its Central American setting with scant reference to folk, Golijov offers an unassimilated collage of indigenous and classical forms: not fusing them so much as presenting them as a musical mezze. The dances of Venezuela dominate, with choruses written canonically over merengue rhythms, fado laments and holy mysteries performed by capoeira dancers. But for the enigmatic soprano aria and concluding Kaddish, Golijov's contribution seems mainly to be curatorial or decorative. In fact, there is nothing modern about La Pasión except for the fact that its composer was actually born in South America. As the discography of Andrew Lawrence-King, Jordi Savall, Florilegium, and Ex Cathedra shows - in music by Fernandes, Madre de Deus, Padilla, Cererols, de Zespedes and other conquistador composers - Old World rituals that use New World rhythms are as old as Christopher Columbus.

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