EIF 2016: St Matthew Passion Review
The story of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St Mathew Passion is taken from Martin Luther’s German translation of chapters 26 and 27 of the Gospel of Matthew, a point in the bible which recounts Judas’ betrayal of Jesus after the last supper, his arrest, crucifixion and subsequent burial. Originally to be sung at Good Friday vesper services, it is scored in two parts for soloists, double orchestra and double choir. The St Mathew Passion is a masterpiece of choral music, interspersed with chorales and arias.
This concert was performed by musicians of the chamber orchestra the English Baroque Soloists who play on period instruments. John Gardiner, the conductor, formed the orchestra in 1978. He is an absolute authority on J S Bach and this was a unique performance in many ways.
The composition is over three hours long and the singers sang the German text without scores; individual members of the Monteverdi choir stepped out and displayed their vocal talents as soloists in arias, particularly the altos Reginald Mobley and Eleanor Minney.
In recitative passages musicians from the orchestra stood up and came to the front of the stage to perform their solos. Remarkable players, they included the oboist Michael Niesemann, whose breath control was astonishing; the leader of the orchestra violinist Kati Debretzeni; the flautist Rachel Beckett; violinist Catherine Martin and cellist Richte van der Meer. At the end of the concert the two principal soloists joined the choir for the final chorus.
The tenor, James Gilchrist, sang the part of the Evangelist, who narrates the tale. He is considered to be the world’s leading exponent of the Evangelist and certainly the passion he imbued in his performance was mesmerising.
As were John Gardiner’s expressive hands. It was as if he was familiar with every nuance in this work.
Stephen Loges, with his rich bass-baritone voice, sang the part of Jesus.
The Monteverdi choir, which was founded in 1964 by John Gardiner was superb. With impeccable endings and enunciation, their pianissimo singing in the choral part after Jesus has felt forsaken by God “Wenn ich einmai soil scheiden” (When I one day must leave here) was exquisite. And the choir was enhanced periodically by members of the National Girls Choir of Scotland.
All in all, it was an outstanding performance.
Performance was on Saturday, 13 August