JS Bach: St Matthew Passion
Iván Fischer has been nothing if not flexible in his approach to the Matthew Passion in the past. But it comes as a shock to encounter this latest instalment in the Concertgebouw’s venerable Matthäus-Passion tradition. Was Fischer haunted by the ghost of its founder Willem Mengelberg? It’s overstating the case, but it would be hard to imagine a weightier, more symphonic account, beauty of sound almost an end in itself. The opening chorus – by the clock, nearly a third longer than most performances nowadays – seems to be about the music itself, and while the glorious swell of sound is undeniably seductive, it’s also cloying.
The odd thing is that Fischer himself seems caught up in the drama. He doesn’t conduct the recitative in which Peter weeps, but the camera homes in on his lips mouthing the words, his eyes overcome by the poignancy of the situation. Yet following Christ’s death, when the chorus sings ‘Truly this man was the son of God’, it’s rather matter-of-fact with none of the wonderment John Nelson conjures in his Paris performance (see review above).
Mark Padmore’s Evangelist is never one to short change the narrative, and Peter Harvey’s Christus emphasises a dignified humanity. Harvey also shoulders two of the key bass arias, for which we might be grateful if dramatically puzzled, since the performance features an uncommonly generous if uneven field of soloists, crowned by the majestic, silky mezzo of Ingeborg Danz, and soprano Maria Espada’s soaring ‘Aus liebe will mein Heiland sterben’.