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
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick