Outstanding Musical Night in Madrid: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants Perform Bach’s St John Passion

22/03/2019

 J.S. Bach, St John Passion: Les Arts Florissants / William Christie (conductor, harpsichord), Auditorio de Música, Madrid, 21.3.2019. (JMI)

William Christie © R. Martín

Cast:
Evangelist – Reinoud Van Mechelen
Jesus – Alex Rosen
Pilate – Renato Dolcini
Soprano – Rachel Redmon
Mezzo-soprano – Jess Dandy
Tenor – Anthony Gregory

William Christie and Les Arts Florisasnts are marking their fortieth anniversary this year and, in the intervening period, have become a leading group in the world of historically informed performance. Part of their celebration is this European tour of the St John Passion, which is not the best known or most frequently heard Bach oratorio – the preference seems to be for the St Matthew Passion. But it is always a pleasure to attend the St John; although it does not have great arias for the soloists, it does contain some beautiful passages for the chorus.

The concert, organized by Ibermúsica and the CNMD (National Center for Musical Diffusion), was magnificent in musical terms although the vocal result was somewhat irregular. William Christie is one of the major interpreters of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century music, and it is always a genuine joy to attend a concert of his – and even more so if he is with Les Arts Florissants. On this occasion, the music was superb: a very well-balanced interpretation and plenty of emotion. The orchestra was first-rate, and little can be said about the Franco-American maestro that is not known to all music lovers. A truly great musical event took place yesterday in Madrid.

From a vocal point of view, there were two outstanding performances. On the one hand, I would single out tenor Reinoud Van Mechelen, who covered the part of the Evangelist. As is known, this role does not have any arias. It is all recitatives, which are numerous and demand a very strong singer. Van Mechelen was excellent from beginning to end.

The other highlight of the evening in vocal terms was the Chorus of Les Arts Florissants, which offered a stellar performance.

The rest of the cast, as far as soloists are concerned, was uneven. Among the best was soprano Rachel Redmon, who has an attractive soprano and sang her two arias with gusto. Good too was the impression left by bass Alex Rosen who sang the part of Jesus. He also has only recitatives to sing, and he executed them with a sonorous and attractive voice.

Mezzo-soprano Jess Dandy was almost inaudible in her aria in the first part but improved in the second, although she falls short in the lower part of the tessitura. Bass-baritone Renato Dolcini was a correct interpreter of Pilatus, although modest in purely vocal terms, as was tenor Anthony Gregory.

José M. Irurzun

For a London review of this concert click here.

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