Monday, April 18, 2011

St John Passion in NY

Heard it today in the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, performed by the St Andrew Chorale and Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Henderson. Last night I could have heard the St Matt's Passion, elsewhere, but I had already been to Wozzeck in the afternoon.

Managed to use my student ID to get in a bit cheaper. The church was not that well sold - maybe 80% or so. So the band consisted of a choir of about 40 people and a small orchestra, with one cello and one bass. Virtually behind whom I sat, and I now know every bass note in that piece.

Andrew Henderson sort of conducted from the harpsichord. Sort of because in the choruses he stood up and conducted, similarly in anything that involved orchestral forces - he harpsichorded mainly in the recitatives.

I noticed they sang from the Henle Urtext edition, which may explain why the very sad closing chorus (Ruhe sanft), was unexpectedly followed by a rather up-beat chorale. Did Bach really urtext that?

I thought that overall the choruses lacked tension. There is a lot of aggression in that piece, and that did not really come out. Once or twice I also thought that the chorus and the orchestra were a little apart. The evangelist, Andrew Fuchs, was wonderful, though, totally enacting the whole story line. His German diction was perfect (surname, hmmm?) and he did a lot to keep the thing flowing. The other soloists, who kept stepping out of the choir, were not bad either, though none had Mr Fuchs' perfect diction. Some could have been more faithful to the score on the dynamics.

The orchestra was generally quite ok, though the cellist seemed to be struggling a bit in his main solo part which was a shame. At another moment the first violins came completely off their skids in their solo part, but managed to recover. I assume the instrumental musicians were professionals. They did have a nice touch with baroque interpretation and little vibrato.

It was ok, but the evangelist definitely won the day!