Classical review: Dunedin Consort, Edinburgh

The Dunedin Consort. Picture: Contributed
The Dunedin Consort. Picture: Contributed
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THE Dunedin Consort’s performance of Bach’s Matthew Passion on Palm Sunday made a fitting start to Holy Week.

Dunedin Consort

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Star rating: * * * *

Set to a free poetry version of the first book of the New Testament by Leipzig poet Picander, the Matthew Passion is the most revised and complex of Bach’s Passion Oratorios, requiring two choruses and two orchestras, in this instance playing period instruments.

John Butt, directing the Dunedin Consort from the organ, gathered a superb line-up of eight soloists, who also made up the two choruses, bolstered on occasion by the well-drilled National Youth Choir of Scotland’s National Boys Choir. These pared-down choral forces created a poignant intimacy to this well-known story told with fervour primarily by the Evangelist – tenor Jeremy Budd – and Jesus – bass Robert Davies – both of whom were outstanding.

Over the course of this three-hour action-packed work, originally designed to bookend a sermon, Bach uses a raft of oratorio forms from recitatives, ariosos, chorales and motets, each offering a different perspective to the story. However, the jewels in this passion crown are the sublime arias where the character’s inner-most thoughts and reflections are framed by specific instruments.

For instance, alto Clare Wilkinson’s plea for mercy after Peter’s denial was accompanied by a wistful violin melody while Davies’s articulation of Jesus’s heart-breaking thoughts as he is marched to the cross was underpinned by the gamba and violines whose warm tones so closely resemble the human voice. Some minor quibbles with a few soloists aside, this was inspirational musical storytelling par excellence.

Seen on 13.04.14