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April 6   -   Guardian

Bach's St Matthew Passion review – the Armonico Consort span the sacred and the secular

St John’s, Smith Square, London Ian Bostridge’s operatic Evangelist galvanised a mixed performance of Bach’s sprawling dramatic oratorio

Bach’s St Matthew Passion is sometimes seen as the opera he never wrote. It is sprawling, musically ambitious and acutely dramatic, boasting a large cast as well as two choirs and orchestras. This performance from the Armonico Consort and Baroque Orchestra – directed from the harpsichord by Christopher Monks and with Ian Bostridge as a guest-star Evangelist – did much to highlight the piece’s equivocations between the sacred and the secular.

For a start, there were the tempi. Monks took much of the Passion at a considerable lick, digging down to the dance forms beneath the musical surface. Then there was the sound. At its best, the orchestra generated a muted period-instrument warmth, with solo lines sometimes boldly, expressively sensuous. Under the hall’s ferocious spotlights, however, tuning gradually became a challenge, and that sensuousness became increasingly effortful.

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