Classical review: St Matthew Passion

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When it comes to Bach’s St Matthew Passion, there are few conductors who can match John Eliot Gardiner for the seamless choreography of musicians and singers that brings such intensity and intimacy to this drama.

Star rating: ****

Venue: Usher Hall

For starters, the two soloists and all the singers/instrumental soloists from the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists perform without music, which adds an immediacy and fluidity to the storytelling.

Having divided the orchestra into two ensembles, Gardiner then deploys his singers and musicians into smaller groupings as required for the recitatives and arias. This produces the most beautiful musical colours and textures, especially in Part II with stunning contributions from violins, bassoons and the more exotic period instruments such as the viol de gamba, paired with the tenor and bass voices, and the honeyed tones of the oboe da caccias.

The Monteverdi Choir, augmented by the excellent NYCoS National Girls Choir who bookended Part I, provided a rich, fulsome choral sound with individual singers taking on various solo roles.

Perfect support for the utterly compelling performances from James Gilchrist (Evangelist) and Stephen Loges (Jesus). Gilchrist’s pellucid tenor voice, ethereal and urgent, spoke from the stars while Loges’ purring bass-baritone was grounded and full of humanity.

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