Melbourne Recital Centre: St John Passion - Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's St John Passion held at the Melbourne Recital Centre, saw the Thomanerchor Leipzig join the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for this massive choral concert in the MSO’s Bravo! series.
Melbourne Recital Centre: St John Passion - Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Melbourne Recital Centre - St John Passion The Thomanerchor Leipzig joined the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for this massive choral concert in the MSO’s Bravo! series. There is no doubt that the night belonged to the young visitors - not entirely fairly, as Bach’s intricate music was as challenging for the orchestra as for the singers. Still, this was not a competition and, except for the odd moment, the performers were at one delivering this stupendous musical account of The Passion according to St John or, as it is commonly known, the St John Passion. After a slightly tenuous entry by the strings, the choir’ rendition of the opening chorus Herr, unser Herrscher indicated how powerful this familiar work would be, delivered by a choir from the German tradition. Very soon conductor Oleg Caetani established a confident balance between singers and orchestra, which was one of the memorable features of this interpretation of the work. Added to the intricacy of the polyphony, the extended choruses and gentler chorales was the operatic-style telling of the story, which at times saw the score go beyond the bounds of baroque convention. The music was integral to the dramatic context, most powerfully in Evangelist Timothy Robinson’s account of the tearing of the curtain in the temple. Robinson did a sterling job with his demanding role, while baritones Stephan Loges (Christ) and Matthew Brook (Pilate) were both sonorous and compelling. Soprano Rachelle Durkin overcame an early difference with the orchestra’s tempo to sing with power and sweetness, while the quality of mezzo Renee Martin’s voice was heard to greatest effect in the second half of the performance. Both women had given some thought to “looking the part”, in quietly elegant gowns that added a lustre to the sombre line-up of soloists and orchestra. With the choir so at home with the music, there were few surprises – but the audience was there for a rare chance to hear an authentic account of a pillar of the German choral tradition. The applause – and comments in the foyer afterwards – showed great appreciation for having received exactly that. This was a most welcome visit by the Thomanerchor Leipzig. St John Passion at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

Suzanne Yanko

Monday 23 March, 2009

About the author

Suzanne Yanko is the editor of www.classicmelbourne.com.au. She has worked as a reviewer, writer, broadcaster and editor for Fairfax Digital, the Herald-Sun, the South China Morning Post, Radio 4 Hong Kong, HMV VOICE - and, for six years, ArtsHub.   Email: syanko@artshub.com.au