Florian Helgath, Zürcher Sing-Akademie, Orchestra La Scintilla Zürich
Bach: St.Matthew Passion, BWV 244
KKL, Lucerne, 2021-03-28
2020-04-02 — Original posting
Geisterkonzert: Aufzeichnung von Bachs Matthäus-Passion für online-Streaming — Zusammenfassung
Pandemiebedingt konnte die Zürcher Sing-Akademie (Leitung: Florian Helgath) die Matthäus-Passion (BWV 244) von Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) nicht als öffentliches Karfreitags-Konzert aufführen. Statt dessen wurde das Werk eine Woche vorher im KKL in Luzern “wie echt, jedoch ohne Publikum” musiziert und als Video aufgezeichnet. Damit erhielt das Publikum die Möglichkeit, die Passion am Karfreitag via online-Streaming zuhause zu erleben.
Die 32 Sängerinnen und Sänger der Zürcher Sing-Akademie sangen als Doppelchor (zweimal 4+4+4+4). Die ansehnlich große Formation des Orchestra La Scintilla Zürich spielte ebenfalls doppelchörig (2 x 14 Streicher). Der Tenor Jan Petryka war in der Monster-Partie des Evangelisten im Aufnahme-Setting akustisch etwas benachteiligt und stimmlich sehr gefordert. Er musste zudem auch noch die beiden Tenor-Arien meistern. Hingegen sorgte die volle, warme Stimme von Milan Siljanov (Jesus) für emotionale Höhepunkte. Von den weiteren drei Solisten für die großen Arien—Hannah Morrison, Sopran; Anke Vondung, Alt; Konstantin Wolff, Bass—überzeugte am meisten der Bassist, speziell in seiner Arie “Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder“, im Verbund mit dem ausgezeichneten Violinsolo des zweiten Konzertmeisters, Bartłomiej Nizioł.
Die Zürcher Sing-Akademie agierte auf dem erwarteten professionellen Niveau: trotz sehr lockerer und breiter Aufstellung homogen, prägnant, kontrolliert und intonationssicher vom leisesten Pianissimo bis zum klangstarken Fortissimo. Das Vokalensemble übernahm auch die Aufgabe des soprano in ripieno (Choral) im Eingangschor, sowie diejenige der Nebenrollen von Petrus, Pilatus, Judas, Pontifex I/II, etc.—durchweg hervorragende Sänger, die sich ausgezeichnet in das Team der oben genannten Solisten einfügten.
Zu diesem Aufzeichnungskonzert erhielten lediglich Pressevertreter Zutritt. Ich habe diese Einladung gerne angenommen, fand mich jedoch mit den “Tücken des Objekts” konfrontiert. Ein Geisterkonzert ist eben doch nicht ganz “wie echt”. Zum Vermeiden eines Übermaßes an Nachhall war die Akustik des KKL auf “trocken” eingestellt. Das Erreichen einer ausgewogenen Klang-Landschaft oblag dem Tonmeister. Und natürlich fehlte aufseiten der Musikerinnen und Musiker die Interaktion mit dem Publikum. Das Erlebnis der Aufzeichnung (auch wenn diese als volles Konzert musiziert wurde) ist deshalb mit Vorbehalt zu interpretieren. Die Alternative wäre eine Beurteilung des gestreamten Konzerts. Diese ist jedoch noch weniger mit regulären Konzerten vergleichbar und kommt deshalb für mich nicht infrage.
Table of contents
- Streaming-Only Concerts
- Bach: St.Matthew Passion, BWV 244
- The Artists
- A Few Words on Bach’s St.Matthew Passion
- Concert & Review
- A Concert “As Good as Real”?
|Venue, date & time||KKL Luzern, Lucerne, 2021-03-28 16:00|
|Series / Title||J.S. Bach, Matthäus-Passion|
|Reviews from related events||Concerts with the Zürcher Sing-Akademie|
Concerts with the Orchestra La Scintilla, Zurich
Reviewing streamed concerts is tricky matter. Clearly, the listener’s experience is entirely different from a live concert. The streaming environment lacks the „live atmosphere“, i.e., the lighting, the acoustics, the audience, the collective response, and the interaction of the musicians with the audience. Watching a concert on a screen or TV simply does not offer the same, “immersive” experience. The Covid-19 lockdown, however, leaves no alternative to streaming. Events with large audiences are forbidden, Switzerland is in the third wave right now.
For the past years (with one early exception), I have only reviewed live concerts (besides discussing CD recordings, of course). Therefore, a review from a streaming platform—albeit certainly doable—would simply not fit the context of the other concert reviews. CD recordings and live concerts are already two entirely “different pairs of shoes”, after all.
With this, I was happy to be invited to the recording performance for a streaming. Particularly as this was conducted as a full concert performance in the KKL, with concert lighting. It just lacked the audience, apart from around a dozen members of the press. These were spread over the rear part of the parquet seating.
Bach: St.Matthew Passion, BWV 244
The program featured one single composition, the St.Matthew Passion (Matthäus-Passion), BWV 244, which Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) composed in 1727. The work is set for soloists, double choir (and a ripieno soprano) and double orchestra. Information from Wikipedia: The composition sets chapters 26 and 27 of the Gospel of Matthew (in the Luther Bible) to music, with interspersed chorales and arias. The libretto is by Picander (Christian Friedrich Henrici, 1700 – 1764), who also contributed the text to many of Bach’s cantatas. The oratorio can be seen as “staged” narration from the bible. Its dramatic roles are listed below.
Bach asks for two choirs plus a Soprano in ripieno. Traditionally, this work was performed by big, if not huge oratorio choirs. These were typically lay choirs. The size was mandated by the necessity maintain sufficient homogeneity while splitting the ensemble into two more or less equal portions. In addition, the soprano in ripieno was often performed by a children’s choir. The choir(s) must cover a broad spectrum, from the “big” opening and closing choruses, to numerous four-part chorales (intense, contemplative reflections) to dramatic turbae (depicting “collective entities”, such as the high priests, a crowd of people, or the disciples), and on to illustrative interjections in arias. The latter make many lay choirs struggle with the intonation.
The numbering of the pieces in the text below follows J. S. Bach, Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke (Johann Sebastian Bach & Dürr, 1978)
A central role in Bach’s oratorios (including the passion oratorios) falls onto choir and orchestra. Here, the Zürcher Sing-Akademie and the Orchestra La Scintilla Zurich, Zurich’s biggest and most prominent formation for historically informed performances. The choir’s Artistic Director & Chorus Master, Florian Helgath (*1978), was also the conductor of the performance.
Here, the Zürcher Sing-Akademie covered all of the roles described above with 32 singers, 8 per voice (SATB), or 2 choirs with 4 singers per voice. The soprani in ripieno were “stripped” from the regular soprano singers. The choir was set up in three rows at the rear edge, across the width of the podium.
The outcome of any passion oratorio performance crucially depends on the qualities of the two main roles:
Evangelist (high tenor): Jan Petryka (Polish-Austrian, see also Wikipedia)
Jesus (bass): Milan Siljanov (*1987, Zurich/Switzerland)
These two were performing behind the orchestra, right in front of the choir.
Soprano: Hannah Morrison (Netherlands)
Alto: Anke Vondung (*1972, Speyer/Germany)
Tenor: Jan Petryka
Bass: Konstantin Wolff (*1978, Lahn-Gießen/Germany, see also Wikipedia)
The arias were performed at the front of the stage, next to the conductor, Florian Helgath.
Secondary “Dramatic” Roles
The secondary roles were performed by soloists out of (and within) the ranks of the Zürcher Sing-Akademie:
Petrus (bass): Fabrice Hayoz (Fribourg/Switzerland)
Judas (tenor): Martin Logar (Slovenia)
Pontifex I (bass-baritone): Ekkehard Abele (Germany)
Pontifex II (bass): Matija Bizjan (*1988, Ljubljana/Slovenia)
Ancilla I (soprano): Andrea Oberparleiter (South Tyrol/Italy, see also the ZSA Website)
Ancilla II (soprano): Anja Scherg (Germany)
Uxor Pilati (soprano): Sonja Bühler (Germany, see also the ZSA Website)
The splitting of the orchestra into two ensembles was visible. Not so much from a gap in the middle, but through the presence of two basso continuo groups, both featuring a chest organ. I found it a very interesting idea to place the viola da gamba (Rebeka Rusó) in the center, right between the two organs.
The orchestra I on the left was led by concertmaster Monika Baer (see also the ZHdK Website). This ensemble not only serves as accompaniment for the big choruses, chorales and some arias. It specifically is associated with (most of) the turbae and the secondary roles, i.e., the dramatic part of the oratorio, with the exception of the role of Jesus. The evangelist associates with the continuo in the orchestra I.
The orchestra I also carries key wind solo parts. The most prominent roles in this concert were those of Maria Goldschmidt-Pahn (traverso), as well as Philipp Mahrenholz and Marc Bonastre Riu (oboe, oboe d’amore, oboe da caccia).
The orchestra II on the right-hand side of the podium was led by concertmaster Bartłomiej (Bartek) Nizioł. Besides functions in common with the first orchestra, the key role of this part of the orchestra is the accompaniment to the role of Jesus (strings and chest organ).
A Few Words on Bach’s St.Matthew Passion
Bach’s St.Matthew Passion is widely regarded as one of the cornerstones and greatest masterpieces of classical sacred music. As such, I don’t need to give an introduction to the composition, other than some remarks that are relevant to the comments below.
The word of the bible is central to this passion oratorio. It also was central to Bach’s philosophy of life and as composer, and it certainly was central to the pietist community in Bach’s time. It is for good reason that Bach used red ink for all quotes from the bible in his manuscript. However, to me, that does not imply that the evangelist must be placed in the very center of the physical arrangement. I think there is even no need for him to stand next to Jesus. The latter, along with Petrus, Judas, the Pontifexes, the three female roles (all minor, unfortunately), and the turbae part of the choir form part of the “staging” of the narration that the evangelist is quoting from the bible. Hence, the “stage actors” (including Jesus) are typically positioned close to each other on the podium.
The big choruses, as well as the arias, on the other hand, are commenting the narration from the bible. And finally, as third component, the chorales represent the community, describe its reaction to and reflection on the passion, i.e., the passing of Jesus.
The performance was recorded and will be streamed in video format. So, the setup really looked like a real concert performance, with choir, soloists and orchestra fully dressed up. This was of course appropriate for a concert on Good Friday, in the splendid environment of the White Hall in Lucerne’s KKL (Culture and Congress Centre Lucerne).
Given the option to choose freely, I decided to take a seat in the center of the first row in the rear block of the parquet seating—so I had a full view on the musicians (framed by the two platforms for the video setup), excellent, balanced acoustics—and I was able to stretch my legs!
Concert & Review
Bach’s St.Matthew Passion is not performed very often. That is mostly due to it sheer length and the unusually large setup with two orchestras, two choirs (plus the soprani in ripieno), 5 (better even 6) main solo singers, plus a number of minor solo roles. And many of the choruses are challenging. Not through virtuosity or polyphonic settings, but in voice control (chorales) and intonation (“spurious”, but fairly exposed interjections in some arias).
Especially lay choirs face the challenge of having to split into two separate choirs, leaving only few singers per voice. Lay choirs may compensate this by adding more people, leading to masses of singers. This moves them far away from what today is regarded a historically informed performance. Fortunately, this was not an issue in this performance:
Setup Size: Choir vs. Orchestra(s)
With 8 + 8 + 8 + 8 or two times 4 + 4 + 4 + 4, excess choir size certainly was not an issue here. Even though there are performances where each voice is performed by a single singer only. The Zürcher Sing-Akademie is a professional choir. I know from past performances that the ZSA can produce the volume that is adequate (and required) for big venues, such as the White Hall in the KKL. On the other hand, I also know that the choir is excellent at maintaining vocal substance and projection even in the softest passages.
The one “size deficiency” I noted that in the introductory chorus Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen (“Come, you daughters, help me to lament“), “stripping” the soprani in ripieno from the choir body caused the “residual” soprano voice to be slightly underrepresented. Unnecessarily, actually: there is no need for chorale melody in the soprani in ripieno to have nearly as much presence (if not even dominance) as here. Bach’s score make sure that this voice can be heard even if sung by very few singers. It is not the dominant voice, but just one (essential) ingredient, next to the main choir and the orchestra.
Too Much Orchestra?
Each of the orchestras featured the same number of strings: 4 + 4 violins, 3 violas, 2 cellos, and a double bass / violone. In addition, each of the orchestras included two traverso players, two oboes, bassoon, a chest organ. The orchestra I also added two alto recorders, and the oboists switched between oboe, oboe d’amore, and oboe da caccia. And there was the viola da gamba in the center of the orchestral setup.
Compared to the choir / vocalists, the orchestra looked big. Indeed, I often felt that the orchestra was inappropriately dominating the soundscape. In my opinion, half the orchestra size would have been plenty, given that one can now encounter performances with a single string instrument per voice. In a recording performance, such as this one, this is of course not an issue, as the sound technician can and will establish proper balance. For a real concert (and for the few people in the hall here), this is (and was) a problem.
Besides reducing the number of string players, one may even consider placing all singers in front of the orchestra. Especially with a small, professional choir. This would instantly resolve balance issues. And it would also make it far easier for the choir to “reach the audience”, to grasp the listener’s heart, to convey the drama in the turbae, as well as the intimacy and the emotions in the chorales. I’m not theorizing—I have seen this realized to the best effect.
Expectedly, the Zürcher Sing-Akademie did not disappoint. As stated, they have the necessary volume and projection: vocalization, diction, clarity, dynamics, voice homogeneity and control from the finest pppp to the full volume were all top-class with this ensemble—undoubtedly among the best in Europe. The same holds true for the intonation: those dreaded, minute, but very audible and exposed interjections , such as Wohin? (“Where?”) in this chorale number, or Lasst ihn! — Haltet! — Bindet nicht! (“Let him go, stop, do not bind him!”) in No.27, the aria So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen (“So my Jesus is now captured”) were unfailingly firm. Still, occasionally, the orchestra was too dominant relative to the choir(s).
Pure drama of course the unleashed forces in No.27b, Sind Blitze, sind Donner in Wolken verschwunden (“Have lightnings, has thunder vanished in the clouds?”)—and virtuosic, too. Florian Helgath pushed the tempo to the limit, where the semiquavers almost started to lose clarity.
Technically, the chorales left very little to wish for—to the contrary: occasionally, we experienced choral perfection to the extreme. I absolutely liked the natural tempo and flow of the language, the dynamics, the phrasing. I particularly liked the way in which verses were subtly tied together, where appropriate, e.g., in No.44, Befiehl du deine Wege (“Commend your way”). To me, particular chorale highlights were the “firm statements” in “community singing”. However, some chorales, e.g., No.10, Ich bin’s, ich sollte büßen (“I am the one, I should pay for this”), might have deserved a little more drama—if not even “action”, theater! In others, the orchestra felt rather strong / dominant.
There were instances, though, where perfection appeared to prevail over expression and emotion. In parts, this may also be a consequence of the physical distance / arrangement. Though, I have also noted this in earlier encounters with the choir.
- No.15, Erkenne mich, mein Hüter (“Recognise me, my guardian”): perfect, but may deserve more presence in the language, the “talking”.
- No.29, O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß (“Oh man, bewail your great sin”), the closing of the first part, was a true highlight of the entire performance,
- Both No.25, Was mein Gott will, das gscheh allzeit (“May what my God wills happen always”), and No.40, Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen (“Although I have strayed from you”), to me were musical highlights among the chorales.
- No.54, O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (“O head full of blood and wounds”): beautiful, especially the second verse, p, perfectly performed (too perfectly?), though on the verge of losing expression.
- No.62, Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden (“When I one day must depart from here”) was all ppp, extremely subtle, gentle, and technically absolutely perfect. Professional choir singing at its best. Too perfect, perhaps? On the verge of feeling a tad staged, maybe? Of course, it is virtually impossible to create moments of intimacy, of intimate feelings and thoughts in a venue like the big hall in the KKL, with its visual flavor of immaculate technical perfection.
The qualities of the choir also shone in the turbae: technically excellent, poignant, perfect even? Well, in the half-choir turbae I somehow missed a differentiation between numbers describing the utterings of a (big) crowd of people, “masses” and choruses depicting a small number of people, such as soldiers, or high priests. Florian Helgath avoided emotional exaggerations. For example, the closing bars (such as at the end of the oratorio) avoided romantic pathos / broadening, sounded rather factual, certainly not “celebrated”.
Also the dissonant exclamation Barrabam! was technically clean, pure. However, it remained factual, instead of showing the furor of the crowd. At the other hand of the scale, there is No.63b, Wahrlich, dieser ist Gottes Sohn gewesen (“This man really was the son of God.”). The flash-like, overwhelming realization that Jesus had in fact been God’s Son. Bach indicates this with intimate, touching harmonies. Traditionally, this was often overly romanticized, sometimes stretched in excess (if not beyond recognition). More recently, conductors avoided such excesses. Here, it remained too factual, if not inconspicuous.
The outcome of the passion oratorio stands and falls with the evangelis. He carries the biblical narration and forms the Red Thread (literally, given the red ink in Bach’s manuscript!) across the well over two hours of music and action. In this role, Jan Petryka not only had to endure a lot of singing. Bach’s recitatives are often fiendishly challenging. Not for virtuosity, but because that part must be captivating from beginning to end. And it is very high, and often tricky in the intonation. In that last aspect, Petryka proved to be really firm and clean, e.g., the last part of No.38b, Wahrlich, du bist auch einer von denen (“You really are one of them”), namely Und ging hinaus und weinete bitterlich (“And he went out and wept bitterly”).
Initially, I suspected that the singer was holding back (understandably, given the length of the role), but then I noted that in the highest parts, Petryka often was forced to move into the falsetto register, and occasionally, his voice seemed in danger of drowning in the continuo accompaniment. Diction and clarity seemed OK (though, the text will be obvious and familiar to many, if not most listeners). Still, Petryka was sometimes using theatrical gestures to support his recitation (for lack of vocal presence and volume?). I think this is inappropriate in a passion oratorio. And from his position in the rear of the podium, the drama in his narration often fell flat, was ineffective.
To me, the biggest highlight of the performance was Milan Siljanov as Jesus. What a full, warm, big, but absolutely unpretentious voice, effortlessly projecting across the orchestra. His Setzet euch hin, bis dass ich dorthin gehe und bete (“Sit here, while I go over there and pray”, in the recitative No.18) was so immensely touching. Stellar. It wasn’t just warmth: in moments, Siljanov could raise his voice to impressive, authoritative power, instantly captivating every listener’s attention. Yet, I never noted an excess of (inapproriate) theatrical gestures.
I liked Hannah Morrison‘s bright, clear voice: well-projecting, with “ping”, natural, no excess vibrato, balanced. The lowest segments seemed challenging (for volume / projection), though in No.9, Blute nur, du liebes Herz (“Bleed now, loving heart!”), Florian Helgath maintained acoustic balance with the orchestral accompaniment. Not all soprano arias were equally convincing, though. In No.13, Ich will dir mein Herze schenken (“I shall give my heart to you”) I noted a tendency towards “belly notes”, if not even Nachdrücken.
In her first recitativo accompagnato / aria, Nos.5 & 6 Du lieber Heiland du / Buß und Reu (“You, dear saviour, you” / “Penance and remorse”), Anke Vondung wasn’t very convincing. Her voice lacked definition and volume in the low register, was too dramatic in the vibrato. I felt that this wasn’t the ideal aria for her voice. On the other hand, I found the aria No.39, Erbarme dich (“Have mercy”) excellent in the plea, the urgency in the expression. Also the voice control was excellent (only the violin solo fell off a bit, see below).
Somehow, it feels “wrong” if the evangelist moves from his “speaker” position to the front of the stage, to sing arias. On the other hand, I found Jan Petryka more convincing in his arias, overall.
The first of the two tenor arias (No.20, Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen (“I shall keep watch by my Jesus”) partially felt as if Jan Petryka was singing sotto voce. This may have been intentional. Still, I could not resist the thought that he may have been indisposed, or maybe saving his voice for the many numbers (especially the countless recitatives) to follow? The sotto voce of course fitted the spirit of the moment: the role can be seen as one of the disciples talking in his (half-)sleep. In the preceding recitativo accompagnato No.19, O Schmerz! hier zittert das gequälte Herz (“O sorrow! Here trembles his afflicted heart”), using theatrical gestures to me seemed inappropriate for a passion oratorio.
Konstantin Wolff has an excellent voice, slightly “covered” at least in the first part, which occasionally affected the tonal clarity, especially in the low register. Towards the end of the oratorio, Konstantin Wolff created a real highlight with the aria No.42, Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder (“Give me back my Jesus!”): beautiful, heart-warming, touching. The excellent violin solo (see below) was the icing on the cake. Marvelous.
Other Vocal Soloists
The secondary dramatic roles were performed by singers from the Zürcher Sing-Akademie. The choir evidently forms a reservoir of professional singers. In fact, these singers, especially the male roles (Petrus, Judas, Testes I / II, Pontifex I / II) were all excellent and exhibited more vocal power than the evangelist. Some of this may be due to their elevated position at the rear wall, though.
Overall, I don’t think the Orchestra La Scintilla Zürich performed to the best of its abilities. There were both highlights and low-lights. Especially in the first part, right at the beginning (i.e., even before), I felt that the tuning was done rather superficially. I could not pinpoint a single instrument that was clearly off-tune. However, overall, in the first part, something was “not quite right”. There was a partial confirmation to this: between the two parts, the two chest organs were carefully re-tuned (in coordination, of course), as were all other instruments.
The string instruments sounded without vibrato, which is correct for historically informed playing. However, this tends to accentuate problems with intonation. No.39, Erbarme dich (“Have mercy”) features a very exposed and critical violin solo in orchestra I. This definitely did not always sound clean, was often even careless. Then, on the other hand, there’s the bass aria No.42, Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder (“Give me back my Jesus!”). Here, the orchestra II takes over. With it, we got a chance to experience and enjoy Bartłomiej Nizioł‘s excellent, beautiful violin solo. It was full of expression, full of momentum in the ornamented figures, flawless in intonation, execution, etc.—a marvelous complement to Konstantin Wolff’s bass solo. Both formed a truly stellar moment in this concert.
While I experienced some slight disappointment about the strings in orchestra I, that part of the ensemble shone with excellent woodwinds (alto recorders, traverso, the wonderfully mellow and warm baroque oboes, oboi d’amore, and oboi da caccia).
Viola da gamba
One may ask “What can a single viol do among that many musicians?”. However, Bach had very special effects in mind and used the viola da gamba for pivotal, emotional moments of reflection (also in his St.John Passion, BWV 245). Here it is in the recitativo accompagnato No.34, Mein Jesus schweigt zu falschen Lügen stille (“My Jesus is silent at false lies”) and especially the following aria No.35, Geduld, Geduld! (“Patience! Patience!”). And later again, in No.57, the aria Komm, süßes Kreuz, so will ich sagen (“Come sweet cross—this is what I will say”).
It is for good reason that the viola da gamba was positioned in the very center of the podium. Indeed, even in this slightly artificial setting, Rebeka Rusó‘s viola da gamba did not fail to evoke a very peculiar, both intimate and intense atmosphere. Touching!
A Concert “As Good as Real”?
Coming back to the introductory remarks: upon second thought, and as the notes above indicate, there were a few pitfalls with the concept of attending a recording for a “live streaming” performance:
A major hiccup with reviewing a recording performance (even if it is not a studio recording with countless snippets, interruptions, etc.) is in the sound management. For the video recording, there were multiple microphones covering the orchestra, the choir, as well as the soloists. This has the advantage of allowing for a well-balanced, equilibrated recording, giving justice to each of the artists / contributors / voices, also within the orchestra.
In addition, especially for the solo singers, there is no need for them to “scream their soul out of their body” in order make themselves heard, or to prevail above the accompaniment or the choir (or other voices), where appropriate. Rather, they all can perform at a volume that is best for their voice (and endurance). They can rely on the sound engineer for establishing the proper balance. Some of this may be subconscious. However, for the most part I regard this as intentional and perfectly justified in this context.
However, this puts on-site, live listeners—such as the members of the press—at a disadvantage. What they experience may be substantially different from a “real” concert performance, and it definitely deviates from what streaming viewers/listeners hear.
Acoustics: Recording vs. Live Performance
To the sound engineer, reverberation may present itself as a “complication”, in that it may affect transparency and clarity. In a live performance, an appropriate amount of reverberation may be desirable to allow for a fully “immersive experience”. It makes the listener feel as if the entire hall / venue were resonating, “wrapping” the audience in sound. Here, pauses and general rests felt very “dry”, “empty”. On the other hand, the dryness in the recitativo accompagnato No.34, Mein Jesus schweigt zu falschen Lügen stille (“My Jesus is silent at false lies”) was certainly intended, and appropriate.
Here, I noted that all of the echo chambers were closed, parts of the upper walls even covered with curtains. Of course, this may also have been done in order to avoid over-acoustics (excess reverberation) in the absence of an audience. Overall, however, I had the impression that the acoustics were rather (too?) dry.
One might suspect that the placement of the evangelist and of Jesus in the center of the podium, in front of the choir was done in order to help the video choreography. However, based on an earlier passion oratorio performance with Florian Helgath, the same choir and orchestra (Bach’s St.John Passion, 2019-04-17 in Zurich) I think that this setup follows Helgath’s philosophy. This presumably comes down from the tradition and education environments that the conductor grew up with.
I still maintain that the role of the evangelist is far more effective if the singer is standing at the front of the scene / podium. Even an “outside”, lateral position (still at the front edge, though) would be better than what we experienced here. In a church, one might even consider using the pulpit for this. I would even consider the narration coming from below the podium a viable idea. I have seen this realized to the best effect in one instance.
- Direction: ★★★½
- “Big” Choruses: ★★★★
- Chorales: ★★★½ – ★★★★½
- Turbae: ★★★★½
- Orchestra: ★★★ – ★★★★½
- Evangelist: ★★★
- Jesus: ★★★★★
- Soprano: ★★★½
- Alto: ★★★½
- Tenor: ★★★½
- Bass: ★★★★
- Other Solos: ★★★★
Overall Rating: ★★★★
The ratings above (as also my comments) reflect my actual, personal concert experience. I’m not trying to extrapolate what the experience would have been in a “real” concert with audience. I also didn’t try to anticipate how the performance will sound in the online streaming (i.e., past the microphones and the sound engineers).
With this, the ratings above are likely lower than expected for a “real” concert. In (partial) compensation, I did not try looking for “momentary mishaps”. Nothing is ever perfect, of course. The singers and musicians had an “aftermath session” for recording some extra takes to correct for occasional “accidents”. However, I was told that for lack of time and resources, only a small part of these extra takes were incorporated into the video. I should state that from my experience, there were no gross / substantial mishaps that would make patching mandatory.
Score / Reference
Johann Sebastian Bach, & DürrA. (1978). Matthäus-Passion : BWV 244 = St Matthew Passion: Vol. TP 196 (Miniature Score). Bärenreiter.