Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: ST. MATTHEW PASSION at Carnegie Hall

Me. Labadie led the successful evening with a firm and loving hand.

Review: ST. MATTHEW PASSION at Carnegie Hall

Bernard Labadie led a transcendent performance of Bach's ST.MATTHEW PASSION at Carnegie Hall.

ST. MATTHEW PASSION is one of the composer's towering sacred works; it's earliest performance was likely Good Friday in 1727 at St. Thomaskirche in Leipzig. Bach was employed as the director of church music and cantor of the school located there. The narrative follows the Gospel According to St. Matthew but the text was by some of Bach's contemporaries, principally Christian Friedrich Henrici.

The oratorio is in two parts, the first depicting the betrayal, the Last Supper, and Christ's arrest. The second part depicts the Crucifixion, death, and burial of Christ. The scoring is very complex, including four soloists, double adult choirs, a children's chorus, and a double orchestra. The narration is by a character named the Evangelist.

Bernard Labadie became well-known as the founder of LES VIOLONS DU ROY in 1984, specializing in the Baroque and Classical repertoire. In a recent interview in OPERA NEWS, Labadie explained his experience with "historically informed practice." He defines that as the use of modern instruments played in a manner similar to that of historic instruments, for instance, players using modern strings but deploying a Baroque bow.

This evening's forces included Boston's HANDEL AND HAYDN SOCIETY CHORUS, the BOYS OF THE SAINT THOMAS CHOIR, the chorus LA CHAPELLE DE QUEBEC, the sister company of LES VIOLONS DU ROY, and the ORCHESTRA OF ST. LUKE'S. The latter was divided into two sections.

The soloists in tonight's performance were obviously very familiar with the score, and that experience, coupled with their tremendous vocal resources, took the event to a high level indeed. Soprano Carolyn Sampson is a well-known soprano who sings both opera and oratorio and is famous for her Baroque repertoire. Her silvery soprano projected well into the large auditorium. Countertenor Hugh Cutting is an English singer with a large, ravishing voice. He graduated from St. John's College in Cambridge and recently won the Kathleen Ferrier Award, the first countertenor to do so. His gorgeous performance of the aria "Erbarme Dich" was a highlight of the evening. The Evangelist, who narrates the events of the Passion, was Julian Pregardien. His role is recitative and his delivery always clear and commanding. Bass-baritone Philippe Sly sang the role of Jesus with smooth, dark timbre. The singer has a wide repertory in both opera and choral work. I would love to hear more of him. Joshua Blue,substituting for a colleague, sang with crisp diction and a pleasing tenor voice. Bass-baritone Matthew Brook sang a number of roles in this work. He is an experienced Baroque specialist and sings well.

The ORCHESTRA OF ST. LUKES'S was divided into two sections, as the composer's scoring dictates. Each section had its own concert master. These musicians obviously have this music in their DNA and played expertly.

The vital choral parts were delivered by the HANDEL AND HAYDN SOCIETY CHORUS under Harry Christophers, the CHAPELLE DE QUEBEC, as well as the BOYS OF THE SAINT THOMAS CHOIR, Jeremy Filsell director. All of these distinguished forces sang with incredible warmth and feeling.

Bernard Labadie demonstrated the expertise that has made him such a force in this repertoire. He, too, is adept at opera and choral music, having a Metropolitan Opera debut to his credit.

Related Articles View More Classical Music Stories

From This Author - George Weinhouse