Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra / Chailly @ Barbican Hall, London

5 April 2009

The Tlz Boys’ Choir and the St Thomas’s Boys’ Choir rock!

They provided the finest possible choral singing in a monumental performance of St Matthew Passion under Riccardo Chailly with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.

“God save us… it’s just as if one were at an opera!” That well known reaction to the St Matthew Passion may reflect the conservatism of Leipzig in Bach’s time, but that most musical city was tonight represented in more devotional style via the great Gewandhaus Orchestra, the oldest civic concert orchestra in the world, and the choir of St Thomas’s Church, Leipzig’s oldest cultural institution. The presence of the fabulous Tlz Boys Choir gave added lustre.

This was choral singing with everything: polished phrasing, in lines such as ‘Ich bin’s, ich sollte büßen,’ a deep sense of reverence in ‘Erkenne mich, mein Hüter,’ dramatic excitement in ‘Sind Blitze, sind Donner’ and most of all, a tremendous sense of the crucial import of the glorious ‘Wahrlich, dieser ist Gottes Sohn gewesen.’

The players matched the choirs in excellence. Chailly coaxed wonderful performances from the oboes, obbligato violins and viola da gamba in particular, every line was under his strict, but not unsympathetic control. He even managed to tame the occasionally wayward Quasthoff no mean feat whose singing was the high point of the solo work despite one or two faded phrases. You could not have asked for more dramatic expressiveness in ‘Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder!’ with the word ‘Mrderlohn’ (wages of murder) conveying every nuance of its import nor could anyone want a greater sense of suffering humanity than he gave us in ‘Komm, susses Kreuz.’

The four main soloists gave as moving a final recitative as I have ever heard, but elsewhere the standard was uneven. Hanno Müller-Brachmann was an intensely moving, sympathetic Christus, very much school of Goerne, but Johannes Chum found the higher lines of the Evangelist’s part very taxing but his diction, however, was a joy to savour. Maximilian Schmitt looks too young to have such a distinguished rsum, but he belied his youth with singing of much power and finesse, ‘Geduld, Geduld’ was especially confident. Marie-Claude Chappuis sang the alto part evenly but at times rather effortfully, and Sibylla Rubens (replacing Christina Landshamer at short notice) was stronger in the recitatives than the arias.

The performance received a standing ovation, and rightly so. We must have these great choirs and this wonderful orchestra back in London very soon.

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