OAE/I Fagiolini, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

This was an enactment of Bach's St John Passion as "rethought" by a group of dedicated performers on an Aldeburgh residency, in the hope of regaining something of the scale and directness of a Holy Week service in Bach's time. Only the lengthy Lutheran sermon that would have separated the two parts was left out. Instead, the actor Stephen Dillane eloquently read TS Eliot's Ash Wednesday.

Would a score crammed with short numbers in different tempi hold together with nobody giving a beat? As was evident in the ominous, seething opening chorus, the innate musicality of the performers, their instinct for breathing, phrasing and changing direction as one, ensured that there was scarcely a moment of loose ensemble.

Of course, the work is to some extent controlled by the narrative recitatives of the Evangelist, and Mark Padmore, the convenor of this whole project, is now peerless in his intensity and command of varied pacing in this role - although he was matched on this occasion by the exceptionally forthright Christus of Peter Harvey. And, while one would like to praise the varied responses of each member of I Fagiolini in his or her solo aria, Matthew Brook conveyed Pilate's disdainful yet troubled conscience with special resonance.

Much the same could be said for the obligato players, among whom Mark Levy's plangent viola da gamba and Anthony Robson's pungent oboe da caccia were just two of the timbres that came through the more strikingly in this balance of forces. But the chief gain of a reading unencumbered by the imposed "interpretation" of some conductor was the sense of each performer as an individual coming forward to give his or her all to the communal experience.

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