Opera + Classical Music Reviews

St Matthew Passion review – Bach wows the Midlands

9 March 2024

Lichfield Cathedral was the setting for a Pre-Easter Passion.

St Matthew Passion

St Matthew Passion (Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

Performing Bach’s monumental work is challenge enough, but to have the person in charge of marshalling the forces required for this massive piece fall ill on the day, is a real test of professionalism. Paul Spicer had to miss out on his dream to conduct the piece, but fortunately the Birmingham Bach Choir and the Musical and Amicable Society were able to accomplish the task with the presence of the choir’s director, Adrian Lucas, who despite an uncertain start managed to guide the singers and players to a moving interpretation.

This was a stately, respectful reading of the work, not quite Klemperer-like in its pace but certainly never brisk, allowing you to absorb the narrative in its fullness. Crucial to this was the Evangelist of Thomas Hobbs, who told the story without affectation but with a great deal of drama. He conveyed all the tenderness and anguish of the Passion, forming an ideal partnership with Henry Waddington’s noble, dignified Christus. The exchange at ‘Und er nahm den Kelch… meines Vaters Reich’ was especially moving.

“This was a stately, respectful reading of the work…”

Sophie Bevan’s silvery tone is ideal for the soprano arias, and her singing of ‘Ich will dir mein Herze schenken’ brought out all the heartfelt devotion of words and music. Lawrence Zazzo was not in his best voice, tiring towards the end of ‘Ach Golgatha’ but his unfailing musicality and impeccable phrasing shone throughout. The tenor and bass arias were strikingly sung by Ed Lyon and Stephan Loges, the latter giving a particularly moving account of ‘Am Abend, da es kühle war’.

The Birmingham Bach Choir mustered the required reverence in ‘Wer hat dich so geschlagen’ and the sense of a baying mob in ‘Lass ihn kreuzigen!’. The contrast between the outrage of ‘O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden’ and the sweet promise of ‘Du edles Angesichte’ was neatly handled, although there were times in the second part where the choral unity seemed to sag a little. The Ripieno Choir, from Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum and Lichfield Cathedral Choir, contributed disciplined and focused singing.

The Musical and Amicable Society did not have an easy task, but apart from a few lapses the players rose to the occasion. Catherine Martin’s solos in ‘Erbarme dich’ and ‘Gebt mir meinem Jesum wieder‘ were both edge of seat performances, and Rosie Moon’s double bass seemed at times to hold the entire orchestra together.

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St Matthew Passion review – Bach wows the Midlands