Although it is an unfinished and in many ways defective novel, Franz Kafka's The Trial has fascinated readers for more than 80 years. Several attempts have been made to film it – notably, by director Orson Welles – and also to turn it into an opera. Danish composer Poul Ruders is the latest but probably not the last person to do so. His librettist is Paul Bentley, who also provided Ruders with an excellent libretto for his compelling operatic version of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.
In 1984 Steven Isserlis made excellent recordings for Hyperion of the Brahms sonatas with Peter Evans; this time he's added some substantial extra items – the two Suk pieces, wonderfully played, are particularly welcome. The new recording is fuller in sound and more realistic; Stephen Hough's commanding playing of Brahms's 'big' piano parts could, one feels, overpower the cello but, thanks to his sensitivity, this never happens.
Interesting that the librettist of this oratorio, none other than Pietro Metastasio, avoids biblical passages completely. In doing so, this lets in an emotive realism that allows a quasi-operatic treatment by Prague-born Myslivecek. The composer's penchant for Metastasio in his thirty-odd operas obviously extended to oratorio. The apostle Peter becomes a major figure in the drama. Absent from the crucifixion itself, he has to make urgent enquiry into the state of play. Enter Mary Magdalene - a Biblical character under much re-evaluation in current spirituality - who accompanied Jesus to the cross. Other characters include John (here of course Giovanni), the second eyewitness, Joseph of Arimathea (Giuseppe).