Festival Music

St Matthew Passion

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Loading article content

Keith Bruce

four stars

WHETHER he identified a change in taste or helped steer it, it was the programming of previous EIF director Jonathan Mills who helped produce a full house in the Usher Hall on Saturday. It is not so very long since the idea of a period ensemble performing Bach's longer Passion necessitating the opening of the orchestra stalls would have seemed absurd.

Tenor James Gilchrist may well be the Evangelist of our era – and he certainly won the warmest reception for his performance here – but that cheer apart, it was emblematic that he and Stephen Loges (Jesus) joined the ranks of the choir for the closing chorus. Because this was all about the ensemble, with the rest of the solo voices being drawn from their ranks.

Those singers were Sir John Eliot Gardiner's Monteverdi Choir, founded in 1964, the instrumentalists his English Baroque Soloists, established by him in 1978, and the youthful voices in the mix in the first half were from the National Youth Choir of Scotland's National Girls Choir. With all the singers, and some of the instrumental soloists, performing from memory, it was a mighty feat by all participants, and if some of the soloists shone more brightly than others (altos Reginald Mobley and Eleanor Minney in particular), the choral sound consistently trumped them all, and has the best tunes anyway.

I am not sure the bringing those soloists out of the ranks to the front – presumably a concession to the large hall – added anything to the sound, and some of the doubling of "roles" made nonsense of trying to suggest any sort of theatrical narrative in that, but that is a minor gripe. In every other detail Saturday night was all about the music, and that was magnificent.