St Matthew Passion, BWV244 [sung in German]
Evangelist – Nicholas Phan (tenor)
Christus – Davóne Tines (bass-baritone)
Amanda Forsythe (soprano), Tamara Mumford (mezzo-soprano), Paul Appleby (tenor) & Philippe Sly (bass-baritone)
Brooklyn Youth Chorus
New York Philharmonic
Jaap van Zweden
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 25 March, 2023
Venue: Wu Tsai Theater, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
Composed for the Thomaskirche in Leipzig in 1727, Bach’s St Matthew Passion – a vivid retelling of the story of the betrayal, execution, and burial of Jesus – is set to a combination of biblical verses, poetic texts by the German poet Picander, and pre-existing Lutheran hymns. Though originally conceived for strictly liturgical use, the score is infused with such beauty and grandeur that it arouses emotions affecting even nonbelievers.
Jaap van Zweden led a firm and fluent reading. The Philharmonic rarely takes on the piece – prior to these performances the most recent was in 2008 under Kurt Masur – and van Zweden is not known for his interpretations of the Baroque repertoire. Though maximum forces were used, the largely unhurried reading came across as remarkably balanced and restrained.
The great opening chorus, “Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen”, delivered with warmth and feeling by the sixty-member Musica Sacra and the forty-strong Brooklyn Youth Chorus, set the pattern, in which the message of the Passion story was conveyed with uncommon intimacy by all.
Nicholas Phan, in the long and demanding role of the Evangelist, was fluent, fresh, and empathetic throughout. Davóne Tines, more bass than baritone, no more so than in “Gerne will ich”, made an appropriately grave Jesus in his recitatives. Amanda Forsythe, radiantly expressive, was at her best in the heart-wrenching “Aus Liebe mein Heiland sterben”, gracefully accompanied by Robert Langevin’s flute. Tamara Mumford’s “Buß und Reu” and “Erbarme dich mein Gott”, both full of pathos, were some of the emotional highlights. Philippe Sly was the standout vocalist – vibrant and emphatic in his few lines as Judas, tremendously moving as Peter, profoundly soulful in “Komm, süßes Kreuz“. Paul Appleby, fervently tender in his brief recitative appearances, was most impressive in the coloratura sections of “Geduld! Wenn mich falsche Zungen stechen“.
The Philharmonic players were at their best throughout, welcoming several guest artists on period instruments, most notably Matt Zucker, whose contributions on viola da gamba were particularly captivating.