Armonico Consort’s mini-tour of Bach’s St Matthew Passion ended in Malvern on a blossom-filled Palm Sunday afternoon, and as this massively eloquent masterpiece drew towards its conclusion with evening reflections nature and art seemed to unite as one.
But it had taken Christopher Monks’ musicians a long time to achieve such success. We had begun underpowered, the vibrato-shunning orchestra sounding thin in this cavernous acoustic, the choristers lacking in depth and projection, with only the young people of the AC Academy Warwick and the Worcester Cathedral Girls Choir delivering impact and conviction. Clarity of choral texture did develop as the performers settled.
As with Jeffrey Skidmore’s Ex Cathedra, many of the vocal solos were taken by choir members, but unlike with that group of nearly half a century of venerability, success here was mixed, some of the soloists uncomfortable in various parts of their register.
In the two main solo roles, Nathan Vale was the engaged, outraged Evangelist, and Sir Willard White touchingly sensitive to the words of Christus; and it was a lovely idea to bring him back to life for the wonderful contemplation of evening.
What was encouraging in this presentation was the clever pragmatism of Monks’ deployment of the two performing forces Bach specifies, and the absolutely brilliant programme-notes, far more than just a road map, by Peter Parfitt. These deserve to be published in a little pamphlet to be treasured by every lover of this amazing score.