The centrepiece of the homage was a performance of the St John Passion,
the shorter, tauter and more uplifting of Bach’s two extant Passion
Sir John Eliot Gardiner was at the helm of this one, delivering a
performance that was both exactingly schooled and dramatically compelling.
Admittedly his firm-set ideas on historically-informed performance are a
trifle predictable, and can be irritating after a while: the over-stressing
of the first beat in every bar of the opening chorus was somewhat bothersome,
as was the exaggerated running-through of the ends of phrases of the chorales
wherever the text contains no comma.
The soloists were led by the experienced Evangelist of Mark Padmore, who
always manages to convey a stark emotional connection with the music while
still retaining a refined delivery. Other than Padmore, the singers were
variable; Peter Harvey’s Christus was more than adequate, but the most
interesting and dramatically compelling was the bass-baritone Matthew Brook
as Pontius Pilate, whose role in John’s gospel is so much more prominent than
in Matthew’s more detailed account.
Soprano Katharine Fuge sang with limpid tone, but her phrasing was
short-breathed, and her voice is such a small sound that I wonder if she was
audible at all in the further reaches of the Hall. I take issue with whoever
came up with the idea for the ‘sobbing’ ornamentation in the B section of
‘Zerfließe, mein Herze’; it was the one really tasteless moment of the
concert. Alto Robin Blaze was very uneven in his first aria, which is perhaps
a little high-lying for him, but much more satisfying in his second, ‘Es ist
vollbracht’ which comes at the moment of Christ’s death. Nicholas Mulroy and
Jeremy Budd shared the tenor arias, Mulroy acquitting himself with more
The Monteverdi Choir, in which the soloists also participated, performed
with vocal colouring and facial expression appropriate to each of the
dramatic choruses. The choir were radiantly uplifting in the closing chorus
and chorale, affirming Man’s confidence in the presence of a hitherto
non-existent gateway to Paradise.
Ruth Elleson © 2008