J. S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion – Mark Padmore, Roderick Williams, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

St Matthew Passion, BWV244

Evangelist – Mark Padmore
Christus – Roderick Williams
Amy Freston & Laura Mitchell (sopranos), Christianne Stotijn & Iris Julien (mezzo-sopranos), Robert Murray (tenor) & Charles Gibbs (bass)

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment [Margaret Faultless & Alison Bury (leaders)]

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 9 April, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Mark PadmoreIt takes a lot to put off the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and a group of soloists as committed as this. Not even a gunshot-sound going off in the middle of an aria twenty minutes in (a tyre of a wheelchair belonging to a member of the audience exploded!) could disturb the concentration of this formidable ensemble.

After the all-guns-blazing “St Matthew Passion” from Riccardo Chailly and Leipzig forces the Sunday before, it was time for an alternative take. With the small forces of the OAE, no chorus, and no conductor, the eight singers doubled as soloists and chorus – and with resounding success, a minimalist, genuinely authentic approach fully validated.

It’s remarkable how easy it is to get accustomed to the lack of a full chorus with a performance of this intensity. What you lose with the scale of two choirs you gain with the intimacy of just eight singers, divided into two groups of four. With these scaled-down forces the text seems to take on fresh meaning and the unfolding drama becomes more vivid, and consequently more moving.

At the centre of this was a towering performance from Mark Padmore as the Evangelist. Musically adroit, diction spot-on and with the meaning of the text delivered with ardent conviction. Outstanding too was Roderick Williams as Christus, whose contribution in ‘Komm, susses Kreuz’ along with Richard Tunnicliffe’s sweet gamba obbligato , was deeply affecting. Christianne Stotijn was for the most part committed and offered fine singing. ‘Ebarme dich’ was tenderly evoked, aided by an exquisite violin solo from Margaret Faultless. Robert Murray’s passionate ‘Geduld’ was as heart rendering as anything all evening, unfortunately marred a little by Ruth Alford’s untidy cello work.

The OAE (the two orchestras led by Margaret Faultless and Alison Bury) set steady tempos, refreshing but with requisite gravitas and an unflagging musicality with a particularly luminous contribution from the winds in the first orchestra. This was a performance of musicians totally coming together – the final chorus was a fitting culmination of all that had gone before, a poignant sense of peace and repose.

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