St Matthew Passion, St George’s, Hanover Square
Sunday 08 April 2012
Passions are running high among the oppressed populace, and a weak colonial administrator decides to appease the angry crowd by throwing them a celebrated rebel as a sacrifice.
The victim is ritually reviled, then tortured to death in a manner once favoured in imperial China; an earthquake becomes nature’s comment, as the story is told and retold. A topical tale, when you think about it, sadly more applicable to our world than JS Bach’s. But it’s a tribute to Bach’s imagination that he should have made of it the most powerful music-drama ever written.
For the burghers of 18th century Leipzig, Passions were performed in the context of Good Friday Vespers, but were also regarded as a good night out. So it was nice to be able to recreate that experience – complete with congregational hymns and a sermon (admittedly of a complacently we’re-all-right Christian sort) – in the oak-panelled church where Handel was a worshipper when the St Matthew Passion was composed. The packed congregation – seats at £35 and a queue for returns - was instructed not to applaud.
With Laurence Cummings directing from the harpsichord/organ, and some fine principals heading the chorus of the period-instrument London Handel Orchestra, this towering masterpiece was in ideal hands. Though the forces were small, it was clear that Bach’s scoring for two orchestras and choruses would work powerfully, and the opening phrase ‘Come ye daughters, share my mourning’ seemed to surge up out of the earth. Casting of the Evangelist is always crucial, and in Nathan Vale they struck gold: this young tenor sings with wonderfully expressive clarity, and his linking narrative breathed searing immediacy into the tragic events. Christus had a noble heaviness as sung by bass George Humphreys, while soprano Ida Falk Winland invested her arias with soaring grace. Meanwhile mezzo Emilie Renard’s arias created an extraordinary stillness: her sound was exquisitely poised, her vocal line clean and pure. And at those moments when she was accompanied by flutes and oboes, we entered a magic which modern instruments could never come near.
Thanks to Cummings’s furious momentum, the symmetrical contours of this great edifice came splendidly clear, and its alternations of chaos, rage, and celestial calm were presented to greater effect than is ever possible in a concert performance.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Half of young women unable to ‘locate vagina’ and 65% find it difficult to say the word
- 2 Perez Hilton apologises for Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak
- 3 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 4 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
- 5 Jennifer Lawrence 'naked sex video' will be leaked threatens 4Chan celebrity photo hacker
Scottish independence referendum: Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai and Frightened Rabbit to play in support of Yes campaign
Unseen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory chapter deemed 'too subversive' released
Strictly Come Dancing 2014: Gregg Wallace joins Mark Wright, Pixie Lott and Judy Murray in line-up
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
Al Pacino's The Humbling and Manglehorn, film reviews
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ukip Douglas Carswell defection: Tory MP jumps ship to join Nigel Farage