Entertainment :: Music

Der Großinquisitor, Pt 1: "unmerklich Und Leise Kommt Er Daher"

by Steven Bergman
Contributor
Friday Jul 12, 2013
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Boris Blacher (1903-1975) was a German composer whose work was only partially able to skirt the notable circles of acceptance during his lifetime. Known primarily for his instrumental works, especially his "Paganini Variations" (1947), and "Concertante Musik" (1937), the latter earned him an unenviable position on the Nazi register for Jews in music and nearly ruined his career and life. However, Blacher was able to escape from the Nazis to the home of one of his students in Austria to recharge and regain his creative energy, and with the help of librettist Leo Borchard, completed his oratorio, "Der Grossinquisitor (The Grand Inquisitor)." The 1986 recording of this work, composed in 1942, features bass-baritone soloist Siegmond Nimsgern, and the Rundfunkchor Leipzig Dresdner Philharmonie under the baton of Herbert Kegel, and is now digitally available for the first time on the Brilliant Classics label.

Blacher used Dostoyevsky’s parable of "The Grand Inquisitor" from the novel, "The Brothers Karamazov," as the initial source material for his work, which was divided by his creative and literal exile into two distinct sections. The first section refers to the appearance of Jesus returning to earth in 16th century Seville, and Blacher’s dissonant writing only includes the chorus and the orchestra. After Borchard helped the composer get back on track to complete the oratorio, the Grand Inquisitor appears and expresses the central theme of the work, the lack of rights for the individual.

The choral writing is powerful, but the articulation of the choral ensemble is sacrificed at the expense of the tonal quality, so following the lyrics, which are only provided in the German of the work, is strongly recommended. Unfortunately, no other language translation is included. However, Nimsgren, the Grammy award-winning opera singer, nimbly handles the solo passages of the composer who worked at the same Hochschule fur Musik where the performer attended school.

"Der Grossinquisitor"
Boris Blacher / Herbert Kegel
CD and digital formats
Brilliant Classics

Steven Bergman is a Composer / Playwright / Performing Arts Educator based outside of Boston, MA.

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