Religion, there is nothing wrong with it. Provided that it is well- dosed, it can be a source of a lot of happiness (and salvation). People can draw hope from it and the pure belief in miracles may also cause miracles. Although it is not very tangible.
The French poet and playwright Paul Claudel (1868 – 1955) was a deeply religious man and almost all of his works were inspired by his Catholic faith. The same is true of ‘The message to Mary’, on which the Verkündigung by Braunfels is based
Violaine is engaged to Jacobëus but she rejects him: by her act of charity (out of pity she kissed a man with leprosy) she herself becomes infected. Jakobëus marries Violaine’s sister Mara and, when their child dies after birth, Violaine miraculously brings it back to life. This mystical story full of love, tragedy and sacrifice smells strongly of incense and is not averse to primary sentiments.
Thus also Walter Braunfels’ score: narrative and dark, because even the miracles leave little to hope for. An unadulterated mystery play, with a lot of attention to martyrdom, but larded with the most beautiful notes that seem to have descended straight from heaven.
Verkündigung was my first introduction to the composer Braunfels. In 1994 the work was released by EMI (now Warner). A publication that has shaken my worldview. Because I didn’t get it: how could such an unadulterated masterpiece remain unknown for so long? Why was it never performed? Since then Braunfels (together with Korngold, Zemlinsky and Schreker) is at the top of my list of my beloved composers.
That EMI recording, including John Bröcheler as Jakobëus, is certainly fantastic, but the new edition by BR Klassiek proves that it can even be bettered!
This performance, directed by Ulf Schirmer, was recorded live in Munich in 2014. Juliane Banse (Violaine) is totally absorbed in her role. She sings softly, swaying and lovingly. Perfect goodness. Janina Baechle is a good Mara and Hanna Schwarz and Robert Holl shine as the parents.
Adrian Eröd is a much better Jakobëus than Bröcheler: his voice is lighter and higher, more loving also, which gives more clarity to his character.