Monday, 6 April 2009

St Matthew Passion; The Barbican Hall Palm Sunday 2009

This was the big one, the one I had really been looking forward to.

Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra cond Riccardo Chailly
St Thomas's Boys Choir
Toelz Boys Choir

Sybill Rubens soprano replacing Christina Landshamer
Marie-Claude Chappuis mezzo soprano
Johannes Chum tenor - Evangelist
Maximilian Schmitt tenor
Thomas Quasthoff bass-bar
Hanno Mueller-Brachman bass-bar Christ
Kaus Haeger bass Pilate/Peter/Judas

After much to-ing and fro-ing we gave our 2 spare tickets to the daughters, who didn't mind so much in the end as they did not have to sit with us and risk being embarrassed by our enthusiastic clapping. Everyone we contacted to offer the tickets were either going already or were away.

Note to self: remember it takes about an hour and ten minutes to get to Barbican by car if you want to allow for the ring road nightmare. Not fifty minutes. The car journey was awful, there was actually a bit of violence and it wasn't Dan dishing it out...and we got there just in time...settling down just in time to spot Mr and Mrs H and Mr and Mrs F in the audience.
Fashion note: Mrs H in flowing purple, very elegant. Audience unusually well-dressed, probably because a large proportion may have been (a) German or (b) parents of the choirboys or (c) both.

First impressions: The St Thomas's choir are so sweet in their little sailor collar jackets. Since they have no standard haircut but some have quite long hair a la 1973, the effect is very Little Lord Fauntleroy.

The Leipzig Gewandhaus band is high on women and has lots of young faces.
Further fashion note: you know, I'm not sure the white tie and tail coat thing is going to last much longer. TQ has ditched it completely, going for the Andre Previn/trendy vicar white-rollneck effect instead. As a result the other guys look fussed, hot and fat.
Anyway...oh heck, it was sublime. I don't really know how to start writing about this piece so I will have to stick with thinking about what people were wearing, because just starting to think about the whole emotional and musical experience is too much. Dan was almost in tears in the first half and I was nearly in tears in the second, at "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein" which TQ took exactly as I would have wanted, with passion and conviction. Now I can die. I do not understand the Catholic Herald critic Michael White who thinks TQ's singing "lacks something".
The mezzo was marvellous. A bit quiet from where we were because of the sizeable conductor blocking the sound but the girls, who were on the other side, found her wonderful to watch as well as to hear.
During her last aria however I noticed two little boys in the St Thomas's Choir who suddenly, as little boys often do after 2 hours of sitting very still and being very, very good, found something - I don't know what - irresistibly funny and got the giggles. For the rest of the piece these two - a small blond one and a taller brown-haired one - kept stealing glances at each other and trying not to laugh (unsuccessfully). I think it's a sign of the beauty of the whole evening that I really, really didn't mind, even though the snickering carried on through Mache Dich.., which I'd been waiting for all my life, because in a way these two little rascals simply reminded me of the joy of God's love and how precious children are. In fact, hearing TQ singing that song of sorrow, hope and determination with these two giggly cherubs in the chorus behind him actually made me feel extraordinary happy.
I was quite a bit older than them when I found myself moved to tears by the story of the Passion of Christ and already an adult when I first heard this piece live. I have been afraid that it would lose its impact as I get older and as the atheists get louder and louder, but in fact, the more you focus on it as a story, the more impact it gets year after year. Suddenly these words of passion (literally) and faith become as true as ever they were.

I remember one Palm Sunday going to hear it at the Royal Festival Hall with Robert Tear leading; I remember him doing a fair amount of swaying and emoting to the music - since TQ did a lot of that last night I wonder if perhaps it is a privilege of the most distinguished singer of the evening. TQ also sings along with the chorales.

Final fashion note: thank you to the violinist near the front of the stage whose gorgeous georgette sleeves simply added to the beauty of the moment!

Friday, 3 April 2009

Impassioned speech by Mark Elder

There is a theme developing at the moment, first Tom Service's article now this speech by Mark Elder for which I am indebted to Jessica Duchen.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Tom Service has written a very sobering and very intelligent piece for the Guardian about the decline of classical music in Britain and how this is essentially down to the schools. One point he makes: the Government likes to enthuse about "elite athletes" but isn't so keen on "elite musicians".