by bach matthew passion it turns out to be a living body with innumerable forms and appearances in each representation: a game of darkness and light, stillness and popular anger, drama and contemplation. The musical framework is the same, but there are so many ways to dress the piece and the roles. Therein lies the genius of Bach and the lyricist Picander, who mix the story of distant events with choruses and arias that we feel in the present.

Not familiar with the St. Matthew Passion? Learn about Bach’s popular masterpiece in our San Mateo guide

With the Southern Netherlands Philharmonic and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the interpretation of the two central characters, the evangelist (narrator) and Christ, was essentially different. In Maastricht, narrator Marcel Beekman led audiences into a present-day re-experiencing of the story of suffering, as if witnessing a life-and-death struggle in a dream. And the Christ on bass Huub Claessens, who sings from memory, remained – nice find – omnipresent in his role onstage, even when he was silent; like someone who is no longer of this world. In Rotterdam, the evangelist Maximilian Schmitt was no less, but he adopted a more contemplative attitude. And Thomas Stimmel’s Christ appeared when he was needed.

pity and popular anger

Director Peter Dijkstra had more powers at his disposal at De Doelen than Duncan Ward, who had ten fewer backing vocalists. Thus, Dijkstra was able to sculpt slightly sharper contrasts between pity and popular anger. It incorporated more moments of silence: especially the immense emptiness after the death of Jesus, followed by the whispering beginning of the choir in ‘Wenn ich einmal soll seperate’ cut into it.

Countertenor Maarten Engeltjes, baritone Thomas Oliemans and soprano Jeanine de Bique excelled in the Rotterdam arias. Tenor Jan Petryka, on the other hand, was somewhat angular in his approach. In the ‘Erbarme dich’, Engeltjes made you feel the sting of Peter’s bitter tears. The color painting of the voices in the interplay between himself, De Bique and the choir in ‘So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen’ and ‘Sind Blitze, sind Donner’ was masterful.

Contralto Rosanne van Sandwijk took a while to find her place in the Southern Netherlands Philharmonic. Soprano Judith van Wanroij, tenor Linard Vrielink, and baritone Raoul Steffani effortlessly transferred dramatic tension from one character to another, despite many role changes. Here the emotional depth of ‘Aus Liebe’ by Van Wanroij and ‘Komm, süsses Kreuz’ by Steffani jumped out.

Both ensembles demonstrated that modern symphony orchestras can participate in Bach’s more intimate approach. matthew passion which has become dominant in recent decades due to performances by ensembles specializing in early music. Both Dijkstra and Ward demonstrated that they could create an arc of tension that never let the attention slack: before you knew it, the pieces were over, without giving you the impression that the music had sped up.

Fragments of Matthew? Listen to the podcast with classical music editor Mischa Spel: ‘What makes the St. Matthew Passion so special?’

Countertenor Maarten Engeltjes sings the ‘Erbarme dich’ with the Bach Society of the Netherlands.

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