The People's Passion
Queen Elizabeth Hall
Put simply this was a mess – a well meaning mess, but none the less, a mess. Ivan Fischer was obviously convinced of its value and worked hard to encourage audience participation in the chorales. We were to see the event as involving all of us, closer to a service than a concert. To some extent this worked as the audience made a valiant effort to sing during the performance, though it had worked better during the earlier rehearsal.
Each of had a copy of the sheet music for the chorales from Bachs St Matthew Passion and an hour before the performance we worked our way through them with relative ease. It helped that the members of the Chorus of the Enlightenment were sitting among us and that the whole session was relaxed and pleasantly informal. We were singing in English, but the rest of the work was to be sung in German.
Come the performance itself and the problems quickly became obvious. The orchestra and chorus were in evening dress up on the platform singing in German, while we were in day clothes, sitting apart, singing in English. This might have be acceptable if the performance had had a snappy dramatic impact but it was frequently pedestrian in its pacing and showed little sense of sparkle or life. Ornamentation, which should lie at the heart of a baroque performance was entirely missing. The two chamber organs, while slightly larger than usual, were under used and there was no sense of the organists following the text and responding to it in their improvised or ornamented accompaniment.
Rufus Muller was a bluff Evangelist and Peter Harvey a smooth Christus – though why he was standing on a little platform of his own was anybody's guess.
A missed opportunity then. I look forward to the Bach choir returning, hopefully, to the RFH next year for their all day St Matthew which comes far closer to the spirit of the work than this well meaning but misguided attempt.
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