Franz Hauk / Concerto de Bassus

J.S. Bach: Magnificat; Helmschrott: Lumen

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No one could accuse German (specifically Bavarian) composer Robert Maximilian Helmschrott of lacking ambition: his Lumen (2017), subtitled "an interfaith dialogue for soloists, chorus, and orchestra," is described as an attempt "to translate the open form of an oratorio -- the diversity and yet at the same time the commonality of the language of the Bible, the Torah, and the Qu'ran -- into a 'unity of diversity.'" Helmschrott's own notes, buttressed by quotations from Goethe's semi-Islamic West-östlicher Divan, from Nietzsche, and from Albert Einstein, make a good place to start. He draws not only on the three main religious texts but also on the Bhagavad Gita from India and from various newer texts, all the way up to Bertolt Brecht. The texts are in Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, and German, and they center on the idea of God as a font of enlightenment. What makes it work is that Helmschrott devises structures that effectively contain his diverse texts and cause them to flow into a larger idea, in which the texture and tonality gradually clarify into a limpid prayer at the end. He uses solos, spoken choral passages, and choruses, often setting ideas from the three faiths in sequence to show their similarity. Helmschrott terms the work an oratorio, and his work is divided into three large movements: Time Past, The Present Time, and The Time to Come. Sample the last of these for an idea of Helmschrott's skillful handing of his materials. The reading of Bach's Magnificat in D major, BWV 243, was perhaps included because that canticle is among the most ecumenical of the biblical texts. As a curtain-raiser it doesn't quite succeed in this rather proper small-choir version, but the Helmschrott is an interesting work that could easily become part of ecumenical celebrations in a troubled West.

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