I’ve been searching for a new recording of Bach’s St Matthew Passion and I’ve finally found it. The only problem is it hasn’t yet been recorded.
In fact the absence of recording equipment may have been the only flaw in the St Matthew Passion performed by the St George’s Cathedral Consort with the orchestra of The Musician’s Table. Conductor Joseph Nolan’s attention to detail was evident everywhere else, from the Baroque soloists sourced from around the country to the positioning of instrumental soloists.
Nolan’s judicious editing cut Bach’s three hour Easter Passion to around two hours and (unlike Mendelssohn’s arrangement) the harmonic transitions were smooth and the storyline coherent. The chorales were performed unaccompanied, allowing Bach’s evolving harmonic architecture to be clearly heard. The beauty of the Consort sound glowed like a pearl. But most significantly the silence framing the chorales helped reclaim their original function; a space for self-reflection within the gospel story.
At other times Nolan kept momentum rolling forward, contrasting outraged climaxes with heartbroken intimacy as the story of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion unfolded. Paul McMahon (Evangelist) narrated with fiery conviction, Andrew Foote sung Jesus with weighty presence, while Robert Hofmann and Richard Butler filled out the smaller roles.
Bach reserved his most tender music for the women onlookers in Matthew’s gospel and it is hard to imagine more magical versions than the ones given on Sunday night. Fiona Campbell’s prayerful “Have mercy” duet with Paul Wright’s sobbing violin was convicting, while Sara Macliver’s “Out of love my Saviour is willing to die” was like a love song with the trio of flute and cor anglais throbbing an exquisitely soft accompaniment.
“A thousand thanks for thy passion,” Macliver sung as Bach’s masterwork drew to a close, “That thou didst prize my soul’s redemption so dearly!”
For your passion, and for prizing musical excellence so highly, a thousand thanks Joseph Nolan and the cathedral team. Please make a recording soon.
This review copyright The West Australian 2014.