- Breathes Fresh Life into a Classic
As “Introduzione” began the album with that ever so familiar choir, a moving blend of warmth, sorrow, and triumph, I knew immediately that Passio Secundum Matthaeum: The Complete Work would be something special. The improved quality of voices, the deepness in tension to the introductory strings arrangement, and the joyful final major chord of the piece showed that Latte e Miele’s remake of their classic 70’s album would surely not just be a feeble attempt at a more modern recording of a beloved record. Strange though it may be, I actually always thought the original was just decent, nothing special in comparison to the giants of Italian prog like Banco and Locanda, but hearing Passio Secundum Matthaeum presented on this newest recording, the way it was meant to be, reached a whole new level, and in my humble opinion truly lands a deserved place among the greats.
So, what makes this newest version different from its predecessor? First of all, the performance is absolutely brilliant, the recording quality is top notch, and everything essentially sounds rich and huge. Nevertheless, the thing that really bumps this album up to a superior level is the way that the band really completed this work and story with the inclusion of new songs and interludes to flesh it out, make it coherent, and add depth. These aren’t just new songs, they are gorgeous pieces that are woven seamlessly into the music and narrative in ways that make them feel like they should have always been there. “Il pane e il sangue dell’alleanza” is the first of these, primarily a solo vocal piece that is full of passion and mystery, but also which contains many choir sections, some narration, and a bit of Mellotron to help tie it to the past. As the album gets rolling one realizes that there are many of these new pieces that add so much drama to the album. In the extended “I falsi testimoni” the band takes “I testimoni, pt 1” and brings it to life with new sections that include solo singing parts which bring more intimacy than the original, letting you get up close to the characters of the story and their interactions. Drama is the salient factor in the new pieces “Il rinnegamento di Pietro” and “Il prezzo del sangue,” two dark, theatrical pieces that knocked my socks off. Furthermore, the addition of “Barabba,” where haunting orchestrations meld with the deafening chants to free Barabas was a powerful moment, while its follow up, “Toccata per organo,” an organ solo originally recorded by the band in the 70’s, added a nice touch of intermission leading up to one of the greatest and most powerful moments on the album: “Il Calvario.”
For those of you that have heard the original record, you already know this piece. “Il Calvario” is about as powerful of a funeral march as you can imagine, featuring melancholic guitar-work by Dellacasa, augmented on this newest version by the work of the Italian strings ensemble Gnu Quartet. It should be noted that their strings contribution to the entire record goes a long ways as far as bringing it to life. These guys are no newcomers to prog, having worked with bands such as New Trolls in the past, and their subtle playing here really does the trick. Rather than its traditional ending with a narration, this new version of “Calvario” segue ways into “Aria della croce,” a new solo from the dying Christ’s perspective that will surely invoke tears. From here the band wraps up the album with several new pieces and arrangements that incorporate several themes and variations from the original album and this new version, touching on a few new topics like the gambling over Jesus’ tunic and the rending of the temple. In the end, after many phenomenal orchestrations, splendid melodic rock, and marvelously executed dramatic narrations (by singers from Italian bands Circus 2000, New Trolls, Picchio dal pozzo, Pholas Dactylus, Sophya Baccini’s Aradia, Jumbo, Osanna, and Il Tempio delle Clessidre), the album comes to a close: a new masterpiece.
Passio Secundum Matthaeum: The Complete Work took me by complete surprise (and storm), earning a well deserved spot in my list of legendary Italian albums. At this point, I’m still deciding whether or not a re-recording of an album can be in the running for album of the year against completely new releases, but the fact that there is so much new material on this album certainly makes it worth considering and even likely. On that note, check it out, it might just be on its way to becoming my top pick of the year.