THERE is always a moment at the start of these towering works by Bach when the ensemble settles to a steady beat and the opening chords begin to overlap, the choir stands and the ominously thick vocal scores are open at the first page.
It’s a moment akin to setting out on a long journey and, in the hands and voices of players as focussed and capable as this, it’s a journey packed with stunning views and uninterrupted reward.
Christopher Monks, skipping between harpsichord and podium, must be delighted with the way the choir and players are performing these days. He sets a steady pace without it becoming metronomic and, as in previous performances, keeps the gaps between contributions to a minimum. The music, and the drama it conveys, starts briskly and never lets up.
St Mary’s provides a worthy setting for music as soaring and ornamental as this. It is always a welcome quirk of the seasons that the Passion is sung as the late spring daylight gradually gives way to the sombre dark and the shadows of this magnificent building. Place exactly the same performance in any municipal hall and it simply would not be the same.
Ian Bostridge is a very strong benchmark for how the role of the Evangelist should be approached. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone sing text as clearly as this, each syllable sharply gleaming and each phrase delivered with a kind of dramatic emphasis you can’t ignore. Utterly transfixing. It’s a key role, and one which cannot just rely on a few decent tunes to gain success. The Consort’s efforts to secure his services fully paid off.
Of equal clarity and power was bass Stuart O’Hara in the role of Christus. Such richness and control, perfectly tailored to the ensemble and the acoustic.
As in previous outings the Consort provided soloists from within to cover the generous scattering of arias throughout the work. The quality was again top notch at every turn. Particular praise should go though to William Towers’ marvellous duet with Hetti Price on Viola de Gamba, a moment of real delicacy and beauty to refresh and renew toward the end of the journey.
But the most impressive voice of the evening was surely the choir itself. Under very exact control and balance this group is singing as well as anyone I’ve heard. There is a precision and a confidence about the way they approach any work that puts them right at the top of their game.
One final pat on the back must go to George Herbert and Andrew Durban as the underlying engine-room of the performance, barely pausing for a few bars at a time before driving it all along again. Even the most beautiful journeys rely on feet to cover the miles and these two were both inspiring and reliable at every step.
Armonico Consort have a full programme of events and concerts across the region this summer. Visit www.armonico.org.uk for full details.