An unusual Evangelist in Bach

Copenhagen Solists rendered ”St. Matthew Passion” with growing intensity and nerve.

Peter Dürrfeld (Kristeligt Dagblad, 2 April, 2019)

4 stars

It began perhaps somewhat anonymously, when Copenhagen Solists under the direction of Jonathan Ofir, on Friday rendered Johann Sebastian Bach’s probably best-known work, “St. Matthew Passion”. But right after the opening chorus, one began to open one’s eyes and ears widely. A female singer stepped forth, one who had just given her full measure in the opening movement ”Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen” (come ye daughters, help me mourn). Now she was singing the Evangelist role in the first strophes of the story of Jesus’s suffering and death. For many, this Evangelist role, where Bach has used verbatim Luther’s own bible translation, hangs together with a tenor voice – and perhaps preferably the lyrical type. And one had to get used to the fact, that it was a soprano, which carried us through the telling from Matthew chapters 26 and 27.

Her name is Anna Maria Wierød. And one did not have to reach far into the plot – the passion develops quickly into a highly-charged story – before she, with vocal penetrative force and dramatic sense, showed herself to be splendid as the one who holds the strings together in Bach’s rich and complex work. As well, her German pronunciation was exemplary. That one became growingly taken by the work, was also due to Jonathan Ofir, who got the choir and orchestra to play and sing with greater intensity and nerve, as things escalated.

“St. Matthew Passion” unveiled itself movement for movement after the special concept that is a trademark for Copenhagen Soloists: a performance of such a great work is perceived as a collective undertaking, and the 13 choir singers take turns in stepping forward and rendering the many arias and duets, which constitute a considerable part of the whole. And in the program, one had avoided listing names – so the audience was to discover who takes up the most central parts, for example the Evangelist – not to mention Jesus, which was sung with fine sonority and a calm demeanour by bass- baritone Piet Larsen.

Yet one could opine, that it was somewhat of a bizarre choice, that Piet Larsen – just after Jesus had given up the spirit – would also sing the bass aria ”Mache dich, mein Herze, rein, ich will Jesum selbst begraben” (Make thyself clean, my heart, I would myself bury Jesus). It is not a trivial dissent, when a concert is also a visual experience, and considering that the choir includes other capable basses.

But that did not come to cause great wounds in the delight of being able to deepen in “St. Matthew Passion”’s miraculous mystery – which in my universe is the best possible preparation to the nearing Easter.

About the work
J.S. Bach: St. Matthew Passion. With Copenhagen Soloists, conducted by Jonathan Ofir. The concert was repeated Saturday at St. Pauls church, Aarhus, and Sunday St. Mariæ church, Helsingør.