Chilingirian Quartet/Hilliard Ensemble, Wigmore Hall, London
OAE/Mark Padmore, Royal Festival Hall, London

Haydn's interpretation of Christ's last words and an exceptional reading of Bach's St Matthew Passion

Choral music dominates Holy Week, giving voice to the Passion, to pain, lamentation and joy. So Haydn's Seven Last Words from the Cross occupy a rare place in the Easter repertoire, for they are voiceless, despite the title, and it is a string quartet, in the version most often heard, that speaks, as it were, from the cross.

Like an actor playing Christ, Levon Chilingirian, leader of the Chilingirian Quartet, was sure of the profundity of his role at the Wigmore Hall on Wednesday, playing with rapt intensity the faltering syllables of the last words – the pleading Sitio ("I thirst"), the resigned Consummatum est ("It is finished"). Haydn's piece was commissioned for Cadiz cathedral, where Holy Week observances included a sequence of meditations on the last words, punctuated by music. His 1785 original, scored for a large orchestra, would have exploited the acoustic of the vast building. But between each movement would have been long periods of quiet introspection and prayer.

So it was odd, perhaps, to intersperse the austere seven Words on this occasion with the frenzied babble of nine of Gesualdo's 27 Holy Week Responsories, however wonderfully sung by the Hilliard Ensemble. Where Haydn imagines terrible events with stoicism, even decorum, Gesualdo panics and flails. He launches into a garment-rending hurly-burly of lurching tonalities, mood swings and erratic tempi, his top line swiping at Christ's burden. It's a far cry from the contemplation envisaged by Cadiz, and although the ensemble's intentions were noble, the result was confusing.

No such problems at the Royal Festival Hall on Maundy Thursday, where the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and only eight singers gave a performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion that was a model of clarity and precision. From this democratic line-up – no conductor, no need – came a reading that was both studied and spontaneous, born of a unity of purpose, an urgent narrative, and the terrible momentum of an unjust act that spirals to its terrible conclusion.

The soloists put in the chorus parts too, gasping their questions: "Wen?", "Wie?", "Was?", "Wohin?", in the opening, bidding chorus, consoling in the chorales, savage in choosing for release the robber Barabbas. In the arias, the commitment was personal: Roderick Williams, warm, wronged and ultimately serene as Christ, Christianne Stotijn elegiac in "So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen", and Laura Mitchell singing on with composure when what sounded like gunfire shook the building and the nerves of performers and audience alike. (It proved to be a wheelchair tyre bursting.)

But it was the astonishing Mark Padmore, whose every performance as the Evangelist seems to exceed the one before, who propelled the piece to a different spiritual plane. Intense, almost disembodied from his task, he narrated the familiar story with a wonder, reverence and urgency that held the audience spellbound, transported by the sheer beauty of his sound. His plangent "und fing an zu trauen" ("and He began to be sorrowful"), floating "Ich will bei meinum Jesu wachen" ("I would beside my Lord be watching") and meaningful "Aber Jesus schwieg stille"("But Jesus held his peace") were profoundly moving.

The OAE, led by Margaret Faultless, played with customary vigour and distinction, and in total unity with the singers – themselves effectively an extension of the orchestra's wind section. When applause finally broke out after a long silence, all the 40 or so participants lined up in random order to take their bows, a violinist here, an Evangelist there. For this remarkable ensemble, it's all about the music. You can listen again on Radio 3.

More Haydn, Bach, Padmore, OAE, and many others at The Proms, unveiled on Wednesday. Despite the Goldie/Bollywood headlines, the 100-ticketed events have Haydn, Handel, Purcell and Mendelssohn at their core, rich seams of Tchaikovsky (Stephen Hough playing all the piano concertos), Stravinsky (all the ballet scores) and new commissions. And all for a fiver a night. Miracles do happen.

Anna Picard is away

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine