A brilliant Bach’s St Matthew Passion is performed in Pamplona

SpainSpain J.S. Bach, St Matthew Passion: Soloists, Ensemble Pygmalion / Raphaël Pichon (conductor). Baluarte, Pamplona, 24.3.2021. (JMI)

Stéphane Degout (Jesus), Ensemble Pygmalion & Raphaël Pichon (conductor)
(c) I. Zaldúa

Evangelist – Julian Prégardien
Jesus – Stéphane Degout
Pontius Pilate – Christian Immler
Soprano – Hana Blažíková
Soprano – Perrine Devillers
Mezzo-soprano – Lucile Richardot
Tenor – Reinoud van Mechelen
Tenor – Emiliano González Toro
Countertenor – Tim Mead

It is very common around Easter for concert halls to offer what has been called sacred music, with the Passions composed by Johann Sebastian Bach occupying a prominent place. Only two of these works have survived, the St Matthew Passion and the St John Passion, and it is the first one that has always been the most popular, in the sense of being programmed more frequently.

This is how Baluarte understands it, and they have staged this great work five years after the triumph that the St Matthew Passion enjoyed when it was last performed here. I’m referring to the concert led by John Elliot Gardiner, the memory of which is still very much alive among those of us who were lucky enough to attend that concert – one of the milestones at Baluarte since its inauguration in 2003.

The result that director Raphaël Pichon and his Pygmalion Ensemble achieved was brilliant, although it did not reach, in my opinion, the heights of that previous occasion. Raphaël Pichon and the Pygmalion Orchestra and Choir, which he founded in 2006, specialize in early music, and their quality is unquestionable. His reading gained strength as the concert progressed, and Part 2 surpassed Part 1in quality and emotion. The performances of the orchestra soloists, especially the strings, are worthy of being highlighted, and the chorus always showed its mastery of the music.

The main protagonists of this Passion, the Evangelist and Jesus, were well-served in both cases. German tenor Julian Prégardien was an Evangelist whose performance is worthy of being highlighted. His voice is not exceptional, but his taste in singing and his musicality are excellent, and he gave meaning to all of his interventions. He demonstrated a complete knowledge and mastery of the role, and he sang mostly without a score.

Jesus was played by French baritone Stéphane Degout, who was perfect in the character, with a wide and attractive voice. We were lucky that in the second part he sang two arias that are not usually entrusted to the interpreter of Jesus, and we all gained from it.

Among the other vocalists, I must mention the performance of mezzo-soprano Lucile Richardot, who sang beautifully, even brilliantly, in her arias. I found soprano Hana Blažíková, whose voice lacked amplitude, less interesting. Soprano Perrine Devillers was correct in her aria at the beginning of the concert.

Tenors Reinoud van Mechelen and Emiliano González Toro did well in their brief roles, and the same applies to bass-baritone Christian Immler and to countertenor Tim Mead in his aria in Part 2.

Baluarte was sold out, although the capacity was limited due to the virus. The audience applauded enthusiastically at the final bows.

José M. Irurzun

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