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Come you daughters, share my mourning

Wow. I've just come back from what I think is one of the best performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion that I've ever seen. And I have seen a fair few, because the Birmingham Bach Choir perform it on Good Friday every year, and while a quick glance back through my archives tells me I haven't been to one since starting this LJ, that's not representative of my overall life-time trend.

Everything about it was good really - I was completely gripped and entranced from start to finish. The only possible gripe was that the text was sung in English - accessible, yes, and the translation used was good, but it does inevitably mess up the rhythms from time to time. I'll note down my thoughts on the soloists particularly, though, so that I know what names to look out for in future:

Christopher Gillett - Evangelist (tenor). He usually sings this role for the Bach Choir, and I'm pretty sure I've seen him do it before. And so he should, because he is just perfect. Clear, unmannered and with a brilliant range of tone and colour considering that all he has to work with is recitative. When he sang that Jesus cried aloud and died, it actually happened. And the entire auditorium rang out with stunned silence afterwards.

Paul Whelan - Christ (bass). Much the same to say about him, actually - including the fact that I'm pretty sure I've seen him as Jesus before. I don't tend to like basses, but he had little of the toneless croak which normally puts me off. Instead, he was powerful, commanding, and - when the text required it - very, very human. Plus he was extraordinarily tall, and chose to emphasise this by wearing white tie and tails. So, points for presentation.

Christopher Purves (bass). My usual rule about basses was broken even harder by this guy. I actively loved his voice. It was rich, full of tone and expression, and perfectly controlled. He just sounded to me like a good tenor with a lower-than-normal range. Hooray.

Brad Cooper (tenor). This was a substitution - we were meant to have Paul Nilon, but after hearing him recently in Orfeo, I'm not sorry we didn't. Instead, we got a young Australian guy called Brad Cooper, who was (understandably) a little nervous, but fundamentally had a nice voice. A little more work on polishing it up, and he should be one to watch.

William Towers (alto). Like I say, they were all good, but he was the star of the show for me. Absolutely took my breath away. He has incredible power, and his upper range is so sweet, pure and beautifully controlled, I sometimes I had trouble believing that it was actually a human being who was singing, and not some perfect Platonic form of a voice. His lower range isn't quite so wonderful, being a little thin (though still powerful). But for some arias, that sound really works. It was when he sang 'Have mercy, Lord'1, for which this was very much true, that I was really won over. Mum and I were giving him secret silent hand-claps behind the backs of the seats in front of us for that one, and you can rest assured that I'll be buying CDs in the very near future.

Elizabeth Watts (soprano). Not so much praise for her, in that she wasn't in any way bad, but also wasn't as outstanding as most of the others. Could perhaps have been richer in tone and greater in power, I guess. But then again, she didn't warble or shriek. Just did the job very nicely.

We also had yummy toasted hot cross buns before we came out, and also Mini Eggs in the interval (which is probably an act of High Blasphemy, or something). So, all in all, I am glad that Jesus died. Much appreciated, dude.

1. I can't be bothered to look up the usual German names for the arias, but it's a little over half-way through.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 6th, 2007 09:00 pm (UTC)
I went to a really stunning St Matthew Passion in York last year, with Charles D singing the Evangelist and Peter Harvey singing Christ. The only thing wrong with it was the alto (female alto, not countertenor), who had a good voice but no feeling whatsoever; she set my teeth on edge.

If only we could pick bits...
Apr. 6th, 2007 09:16 pm (UTC)
Ah, well of course there could hardly be a better Evangelist for you! Unless maybe you would prefer to have him singing the arias instead?

Female altos are usually a disappointment for me, because I just prefer the sound of a male voice in that range. The only one I can think of who I like is Hilary Summers.
Apr. 6th, 2007 10:03 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, Charles makes a superb Evangelist, and Peter Harvey thinks so too (I got a chance to chat with him during the interval). He is wonderfully expressive without ever falling into the trap of becoming theatrical, which is what really annoys me about Ian Bostridge's performance on the recording I have.

Now you mention it, I can't think of a female alto who particularly grabs me either, but then to be fair I don't think I have any female alto soloists on any of my baroque recordings, so I'm probably not in a position to judge. This isn't deliberate - it just happened that way!
Apr. 7th, 2007 08:59 am (UTC)
I don't tend to go to enough concerts or keep up with enough current recordings to know who's working at the moment, but historically, I think Kathleen Ferrier had an amazing sound. I took a CD of her into hospital for my first labour!
Apr. 7th, 2007 10:38 am (UTC)
Oh, good point! My dad has a number of her recordings, and you're quite right. The thing is that I'm mainly interested in baroque, whereas Dad mostly likes classical, though there is a bit of overlap; since most singers don't do both, that means we don't, on the whole, have any of the same people singing on our respective sets of recordings.
Apr. 7th, 2007 08:56 am (UTC)
I can't be bothered to look up the usual German names for the arias, but it's a little over half-way through.

Erbarme Dich. Listening to the St. Matthew Passion on Good Friday has been a family tradition since my mother sang it in about 1980 with John Beckett (when I sang it myself in 1993, I used her old score), and currently, the only recording I have is in German.
Apr. 7th, 2007 10:50 am (UTC)
That movement always, ALWAYS makes me cry.

Even more so when Scholl is singing it.

One of these days, I might have a go myself, but I've got a LOT of work to do before then...
Apr. 7th, 2007 02:17 pm (UTC)
Ah, thanks - yes, that was it. My recording of it is in German too, but it's in Leeds and I'm in Birmingham, so I only had the English translation in yesterday's programme to work from when I wrote this post.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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