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Maria Mater Meretrix

Maria Mater Meretrix

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Soprano Anna Prohaska and violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja are both well known for their taste for eclecticism, experimentation and adventure. As they are also are friends, it was only to be expected that one day they would devise and record a programme together, and here it is: Maria Mater Meretrix … What is the relationship between Hildegard von Bingen and Gustav Holst, Antonio Caldara and Lili Boulanger? The two musicians and their partners in Camerata Bern explore the image of woman through ten centuries of music: the figure of the Virgin Mary – among other works, the triptych Magnificat - Ave Maria - Stabat Mater (1967/68) by Frank Martin, an unclassifiable composer whom both artists venerate – but also Mary Magdalene, in pieces by Caldara and Kurtág. The Saint, the Mother, the Whore … The expression of two women musicians of today, a journey full of meaning and a sensory exploration featuring solos, duets, quartets and works for large orchestra.


Here’s a fun proposition. A program comprising works depicting either the Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalene through time, conceived of and executed with flair by the soprano Anna Prohaska and violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja. Both are thoughtful, entirely game musicians, and their passion for the concept and material is evident.

Taking as their theme the archetypes of saint, mother, and whore, Prohaska and Kopatchinskaja traverse many periods and styles in their exploration of the two Marys: Holst, Eisler, von Bingen, Kurtág, and Haydn are just some of the composers jostling for your attention. Undoubtedly the risk for some listeners will be an experience that verges on the musical patchwork, and for some Maria Mater Meretrix is easily dismissed as just another concept album. For this reviewer, the particular alchemy of Prohaska and Kopatchinskaja override any such reservations, and some of the works gathered here are given truly revelatory readings.

Take Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments for one, selections of which are threaded through the track list. They pack a punch despite – or is it because of? – their lengths (the Berceuse lasts all of 59 seconds) and leave you wanting more: more of the composer’s spectral, exquisitely simple settings of Kafka’s diaries and letters, and more of the musicians’ seemingly inherent way with the music.

The spine of the recording is Frank Martin’s Maria-Triptychon, which is similarly taken apart and studded throughout the album. This is another move that won’t agree with some listeners, and the contrast between a selection and its preceding or succeeding piece is sometimes a little too jarring to be entirely fruitful. However, there’s no faulting the commitment of the performers – Prohaska bends and wields her darkly-coloured, rich soprano with feline ease, and Kopatchinskaja matches her with her own glowing, sinuous phrasing. Together they bring to life an emotional world alternating between moments of extreme desperation and rapture, reaching such a pitch of intensity that the more tranquil offerings on the album actually serve as much needed and effective moments of respite.

Hildegard von Bingen’s O Rubor Sanguinis is one such example, drawing the listener into a richly imagistic world of great beauty. The closing “Per il mar del pianto mio” is another such example, taken from a Caldara oratorio that deals directly with Mary Magdalene – Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo. Prohaska is simply gorgeous here, unfurling seemingly endless long lines of deeply felt sorrow and hard-won faith. Her unstinting dramatic instincts have never seemed so in tune with her musical gifts, and she brings something like Eisler’s sly, cabaret-tinged “Lied der Kupplerin” to bold, brilliant life.

Directing the sensitive and dramatically attuned Camerata Bern, Kopatchinskaja thrills in electrifying selections from Haydn’s Seven Last Words and the God-Music movement of George Crumb’s spine-tingling Black Angels string quartet. The violinist’s own improvisatory Felino is a playful nod to the prominent role of cats in Marian imagery.

This recording comes highly recommended.

-- Limelight

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 1
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Alpha
    • UPC/Barcode: 3760014197390
    • Item Number: ALPHA739