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Bach: St Matthew Passion Review

Conductor: Frederick Platt

3 April 2015, Church of the Holy Spirit, Clapham

Soloists: Katy Thomson (soprano),  Robin Whitehouse (Evangelist), Richard Roberts (Christus), Harriet Roberts (alto),  John Cuthbert (tenor), Daniel Tate (bass) with the #Operaco orchestra and choir.

When you go to a live performance of the St Matthew Passion, with the Evangelist recounting the story directly to you, and the soloists and choir standing before you as they did on this Good Friday performance at Church of the Holy Spirit in Clapham, this great oratorio by Bach becomes much more than a musical masterpiece. Those who prefer their performances refined and conservative, canned and tamed like a Deutsche Grammophon recording, will on this occasion have come away having had a very different experience.

The text is stark, brutal, moving, and merciless, and much credit must go to Robin Whitehouse as St Matthew for his sustained delivery of this great story, beautifully rendered in its original German libretto crafted by Picander. Not for him the familiar tunes of the great chorales and arias, but his superb tenor voice engaged the audience and, perched magisterially up in the pulpit, he led us through the gospel story throughout the 3 hours of this uncut performance. His narrative, with its excellent translation in the programme, carried an electric charge.

Hashtag is a virtual opera company. That means that the hugely talented young musicians come together for the performance with minimal rehearsal. This online crowdsourcing approach is not without risks and on a couple of occasions the players came unstuck as musicians who were not familiar with each other drifted away from the beat. It  says much for the superb musicianship of conductor Frederick Platt, and the players and singers gathered on the night, that the star of the show remained Bach's re-telling of the Passion.

In fact it was some of the ensembles in the orchestra (woodwind, continuo organ, violins, cello) accompanying the soloists which were the highlight of the show.

The other soloists wowed the audience: Katy Thomson (soprano) with her thrilling and powerful voice sang both solos and as Chor I, memorably throughout but for me most of all in Ich will dir mein Herze schenken; the bass Richard Roberts (Christus) progressed from Christ the master and teacher to Christ betrayed and Christ the victim with huge vocal presence; we were utterly gripped by John Cuthbert (tenor) in Geduld, Geduld; Harriet Roberts sang with sweet poignancy throughout but especially the aria Erbarme dich, mein Gott; and who could fail to be moved by Daniel Tate in his magnificent and tender lullaby-like final aria Mache dich, mein Herze rein?

By then the audience was in emotional shreds, brought ineluctably to Bach's gorgeous Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder (we sit down with tears). As the last note died away, there was a stunned and prolonged silence, and then tumultuous applause.

It was a triumph.