Classical review: Dunedin Consort, Glasgow

A REVIEW in the New Yorker last year suggested that “a great rendition of the St Matthew Passion should have the feeling of an eclipse, of a massive body throwing the world into shadow”.

At St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow. Picture: Creative Commons
At St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow. Picture: Creative Commons
At St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow. Picture: Creative Commons

Dunedin Consort: St Matthew Passion

St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow


It’s a thoughtful and powerful image: guilt and shame lie at the heart of the crucifixion story, no more so than in the Lutheran severity of Bach’s epic Easter setting.

Not so much an eclipse in this Dunedin Consort performance; more a deep sense of emotional engagement and breathtaking storytelling as a musical period-piece was brought vividly to life for 21st century ears.

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The score is unquestionably magnificent: for double choir, double orchestra, boys choir (the mixed-gender choristers of Paisley Abbey in this instance), and soloists.

Dunedin director John Butt, as always, used minimum forces – one to a part where the eight singers are concerned – and period instruments, which filled the music with a highly sensitised intimacy and heartfelt expressiveness.

We were spellbound on Friday. At the heart of this hard-hitting, quasi-operatic, fast-action interpretation, Nicholas Mulroy’s Evangelist was a magnetic all-consuming presence, all the more powerful for it being sung “off the score”.

But this was a consummate team effort, from which shone the majestic serenity of Robert Davies’ Jesus, Giles Underwood’s multitasking as Pilate et al, the searing purity of Jessica Leary’s soprano voice, and the beautifully understated alto solos of Clare Wilkinson.

Butt’s orchestral players displayed easeful virtuosity in a performance that shone light on every precious note of Bach’s music.