St. Matthew Passion
March 30 - April 2 | 2017
Jaap van Zweden conducts
James Gilchrist tenor
Matthias Goerne baritone
Valentina Farcas soprano
Christianne Stotijn mezzo-soprano
Werner Güra tenor
Philippe Sly bass-baritone
Dallas Symphony Chorus: Joshua Habermann director
Children's Chorus of Greater Dallas: Cynthia Nott director
St. Matthew Passion (Matthäus-Passion)
(Sung in German with English surtitles)
The grandeur and intense drama of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, performed with both the Dallas Symphony Chorus and the Children's Chorus of greater Dallas.
- High Drama, But Mixed Approaches in Dallas Symphony's Bach St. Matthew Passion
by Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News
With the rediscovery of baroque instruments and performance styles in recent decades, concerts of major Bach and Handel works by modern symphony orchestras have come to seem a bit awkward--too loud, too lush, too unsubtle for the music at hand.
But there's a place for, say, the Bach St. Matthew Passion on an orchestra's playlist, exposing a great masterpiece to season subscribers who wouldn't venture out to a period-instruments performance by the Dallas Bach Society (revelatory as that can be). And more and more conductors and orchestras have become more versatile in adopting what we now understand to be baroque performance styles.
Leading the St. Matthew Passion Thursday night at the Meyerson Symphony Center, Jaap van Zweden was remarkably persuasive in coaxing stylish Bach from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. With the orchestra divided into two alternating and sometimes echoing halves, the lightness of approach fit music composed for instruments softer than ours, and van Zweden kept the music buoyant and boldly shaped.
With well-chosen tempos, urgency was sustained through a performance that, with intermission, lasted three hours and a quarter. There were exquisite solos from co-concertmasters Alexander Kerr and Nathan Olson, oboist Erin Hannigan (presumably) and viola da gambist William Skeen.
Singing the part of the Evangelist, who recounts the betrayal, condemnation, crucifixion and death of Jesus, tenor James Gilchrist went for high drama. This might have seemed overdone, but this is, after all, stylized speech, and the music's wide intervals and frequent high notes endorse a vivid approach. Gilchrist was an Evangelist alternately astonished, horrified and crushed by sadness.
Other elements of the performance often seemed to exist in parallel universes. I at least imagine Jesus facing his last hours with a certain stoic command, with only brief flashes of fear and fury; he knew he was participating in a plan laid down before time. Matthias Goerne, on the other hand, defiantly raged against the dying of the light, with a darkly clotted baritone that I, at least, didn't enjoy.
Philippe Sly could have been a more audibly annoyed Pilate, but otherwise he struck the right tone of unassuming naturalness, with a firm, clear bass-baritone. The other soloists certainly sang expressively, but in operatic manners more 19th- than 18th-century. It was hard to ignore the stylistic disparity with the orchestral playing.
Valentina Farcas supplied a pleasant lyric soprano, Christianne Stotijn a mezzo that sometimes throbbed a little too much. Werner Gura's pressurized tenor settled down after some initial bluster.
The Dallas Symphony Chorus (Joshua Habermann, director) would have been better with about half these 90-some singers, and those 45 singing much more boldly. Music conceived for men and boys here too often sounded soft-edged, even mushy. The Children's Chorus of Greater Dallas (Cynthia Nott), on the other hand, was appealingly fresh-voiced.