Marvellous singing in tricky St Matthew Passion
Who: The Orpheus Choir of Wellington, Paul McMahon, Michael Leighton Jones, Jenny Wollerman, Claire Barton, Andrew Grenon, Daniel O'Connor, The Choristers of Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, Vector Wellington Orchestra, conducted by Michael Fulcher
What: Bach – St Matthew Passion
Where: Wellington Town Hall
Reviewed by John Button in the Dominion Post, 10 April 2011
The St Matthew Passion is not performed all that often these days for two very good reasons. First, it is a work of great length and complexity that makes demands on every performer, no matter how humble, and second, it is not an overtly dramatic work, but rather one sensible to the Lutheran tastes of the early 18th century.
Unlike the St John Passion, which tells the Easter story in a more theatrical fashion, the St Matthew Passion relies on a more devotional approach, coupled to a more sophisticated harmonic language, and only the wisest performances take the mind away from the hardness of the seat.
Fortunately, Michael Fulcher directed a performance with a superbly just feeling for temp; never too slow and never – it would have been fatal, too fast. And he was given, as the underpinning to the performance, marvellous singing from his choir.
There was marvellous clarity and great certainty about the singing, either as a whole or when divided, and there was, too, a similar quality from the orchestra – divided into two groups – who showed an understanding of baroque style that would have been unthinkable not that long ago.
The support musicians – continuo and obbligato players – were mostly completely top notch, and the soloists were a solid bunch. Paul McMahon was a wonderfully solid Evangelist, and Michael Leighton Jones was a sonorous Jesus, but the other soloists were a little underwhelming. No-one let the side down, and the lack of star quality probably would have suited the ethos of the Leipzig Lutherans of 1729.
There were fine solo contributions from within the choir, and at the end it was clear, from both audience and choir, that Michael Fulcher will be missed when he goes to Brisbane.
Orpheus Choir triumphs with the St Matthew Passion
Peter Mechen's Middle-C review is here.