Johann Sebastian Bach’s two great Passions (the story of Christ’s arrest, trial, crucifixion and entombment, as related in the Gospels of St. John and St. Matthew respectively) are widely regarded as masterpieces of sacred music. Bach is believed to have written five Passions, but only the St. John and the St. Matthew survive complete.
Bach scholar Malcolm Boyd summarises them on four levels: narrative, lyrical, devotional and monumental, with the arias introducing the lyrical or contemplative element, representing a “highly personal, even pietistic response to the events of the Gospel story”.
Patricia Rozario (accompanied by Ryan Lewis at the upright piano), in her recital at the close of the middle day of the Monte Festival, could therefore not have chosen a better reservoir on which to base the bulk of her programme, in the chapel of Nossa Senhora de Monte, Old Goa.
Her first two arias [Ich folge dir gleichfalls mit Freudigen Schritten (I follow you with joyful steps), and Zerfliesse mein Herz in Fluten der Zähren (Dissolve my heart, in floods of tears)] were from St. John Passion. Both are highly charged with emotion. The first, originally scored for flute and continuo accompaniment, follows the arrest of Jesus, with the apostle Simon Peter staying close. It is a challenging aria, and was warmly interpreted by Rozario at a tempo that matched both the music and text. The second is a heart-broken anguished cry at Christ’s death. Here Rozario’s crystal-clear light tone was illuminating.
Next followed three arias from St. Matthew Passion: Ich will dir mein Herze schenken (I will give you my heart) is set at the close of the Last Supper. The second and third, Er hat uns allen wohlgetan (He has done good things for us all) and Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben (Out of love my Saviour wants to die) follow the trial of Jesus at the court of Pontius Pilate.
In contrast, Phoebus eilt mit schnellen Pferden (Phoebus hastens with rapid horses) is derived from J.S. Bach’s ‘wedding’ cantata (BWV 202), an ode to spring and love.
Two worshipful Konkani hymns, Aple Maiê vinnem by Fr. Vasco do Rego SJ and Monte Saibinnik Git by Fr. Romeo Monteiro, were fittingly placed at the very core of the programme in their supplication to Our Lady in her own shrine.
Et Incarnatus est (And He was made Flesh), a lyrical aria, is taken from Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor. This Mass is a ‘cantata-style’ work, where text of the Mass is divided into smaller portions, and thought to be in reaction to Mozart’s first exposure to the music of Bach and Handel. It is believed that his wife Constanze sang its soprano solos at its premiere. This aria with its lovely melodic line, huge leaps across the register and its trills, was caressingly shaped by Rozario.
The last work was Hear Ye, Israel from Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah. Its original text is in German, but was sung here in English. Its resounding “Be not afraid for I am thy God” strikes at the very core of faith and belief.
Her encore piece was another paean to Our Lady: Schubert’s Ave Maria. As its familiar clear-ringing notes filled the expanse of the chapel, a truly sacred concert came to a sublime conclusion.
While Rozario’s voice projected itself well, the chapel’s acoustic seemed to muddy the piano accompaniment, ably provided by Ryan Lewis.
It is not surprising that the contemporary British composer John Tavener, renowned for his religious works, considers Rozario his muse. She sings the sacred repertoire with a loving devotion, and she “floats effortlessly with a voice of liquid gold”, to quote just one Gramophone rave review.
In inviting Rozario to perform at the Monte festival, the organisers have struck a goldmine. This is the sort of mining that Goa deserves much more of, and we dearly hope her golden tone gilds the chapel of the Monte in festivals to come as well.
(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 7 February 2012)