Polish composer Pawel Lukaszewski has created a virtual anomaly: a contemporary, large-scale liturgical work that could function equally as well as part of a traditional religious service and as a concert piece with the musical integrity and inspiration to appeal to broad audiences. Lukaszewski, though little known in the West, is clearly a composer to be reckoned with; his wide-ranging imagination and formidable compositional technique have equipped him to write a stunningly dramatic Via Crucis (the Stations of the Cross), traditionally in 14 sections, but here with an added fifteenth station depicting the Resurrection. The rich variety of his choral writing, which draws on traditional polyphony as well as an array of contemporary techniques, allows him to vividly convey the high dramatic profile of the texts. Another striking element is the structural sophistication of his handling of this large-scale text. Some elements, such as a Miserere for women's voices, are repeated unchanged in every movement. Other elements recur, but in accelerating or broadening tempos as the movement's progress, and each movement includes a substantial section of new music. Each station is preceded by 1 to 14 thundering hammer strokes, which, despite their predictability, have immense cumulative power. The brilliantly calibrated architecture of the piece makes it easy to follow, and provides an ideal balance between familiar musical material and astonishing new ideas.
The details, too, are beautifully realized and are often stunning in their evocative strength. The choral section of the Ninth Station, "All we like sheep have gone astray," is a choral haze reminiscent of Ligeti, in which the voices only gradually wander into harmonic coherence. The Eleventh Station, the Crucifixion, has an Orffian propulsiveness and brutality. Jesus' death, Station Twelve, is accompanied by an orchestra of ocarinas, creating an eerily haunted sound unlike quite anything else in the literature. Stephen Layton leads the vocal ensemble Polyphony, the Britten Sinfonia, and four male soloists in a fabulous performance, raw in its power and awesome in its assurance. Hyperion's sound is clear, clean, and spacious. Highly recommended.