Three of the four soloists for the arias had pretty voices — Canadian soprano Gillian Keith, Finnish alto Monica Groop, and British tenor Jeremy Budd. But even in Bach's most profound arias, the solo obbligato accompaniments — by flutist Christopher Krueger, gambist Laura Jeppesen, oboist Stephen Hammer, or violinists Aisslinn Nosky and Christina Day Martinson — were more expressive than the singing. I was thinking that the baritone who played the small but important character part of Pilate would have been superior to German baritone Stephan Loges, whose woolly, sometimes toneless voice seriously compromised his crucial arias. Because I couldn't see the side of the stage where Pilate was standing, it was only later that I discovered that Loges was also singing Pilate! His unfocused voice became oddly more focused when he was trying to project a character.

Despite all my reservations, I also felt that this performance had significantly admirable elements, the most admirable of which was British tenor Joshua Ellicott as the Evangelist. His firm and multi-hued tenor, crisply articulated, effortlessly filled the hall with outrage and sorrow — and passion. He made every syllable riveting. British bass-baritone Matthew Brook as Jesus (a smaller role) was almost equally good, resonating wisdom and a surprising, "knowing" maturity.

And Christophers himself was not without a few surprises up his sleeve. One of the best moments in this St. Matthew came late in the second part, halfway through the chorale "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden" ("Oh head, full of blood and wounds"). "Let me hail thee!" the first verse ends. The second verse begins "Thou noble countenance." And here, all of a sudden, the tempo got slower, the singing quieter. Christophers was actually manipulating the score to make an emotional point. The quieter singing was more interior, more personal. A little later, the chorale "Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden" ("When once I must depart"), about our own fear of death, also had that same quiet intimacy. Maybe if Christophers had "interfered" further in this way, he might have given us a more consistently personal — and passionate — Passion.

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Related: Emmanuel’s late Mozart, NEC’s early Britten, BSO guest conductors, and Boston Lyric Opera’s The Inspector, Heaven!, Interview: Max Raabe, More more >
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