Carmel Bach Festival 2018 — St. Matthew Passion

On Sunday, July 15, the Carmel music community was treated to a stunning performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in Carmel’s Sunset Center. Under the direction of conductor Paul Goodwin, the performance on period instruments drew the listener into an authentic celebration of the Passion of Jesus Christ, according to Matthew 26 and 27. Bach worked closely with Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander) in framing the biblical text with commentary and contemplative prayer. They also collaborated in an effort to restructure the biblical account. The first part of the performance ended at Christ’s arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the second part continued through the traditional remainder of the Passion, ending with the burial of Jesus. Since aim of the composer was to “incite the listeners to devotion” according to his contract with the Leipzig Town Council, the composition was written so as to be appropriate for a Good Friday mass, during which it was premiered in 1727. Last evening’s performance certainly proved that Bach achieved his goals with this work.

The Festival Orchestra performed this magnificent work on period string, wind and keyboard instruments, tuned to an A pitch of 415, which is approximately a half step lower than the traditional 440. The vocalists adjusted perfectly to this divergence, delivering a superb performance: Rufus Müller (Evangelist), David Newman (Jesus), Paul Speiser (Peter), Jeffrey Fields (Judas), Alyson Harvey and David Vanderwal (Testis), Jonathan Woody and Charles Wesley Evans (High Priest), Tim Krol (Pilate), Linda Lee Jones (Uxor Pilati), Ancilla I (Molly Quinn), Ancilla 2 (Rebecca Mariman), and commentary sung by Mhairi Lawson, Meg Bragle, Thomas Cooley and John Brancy.

In combination, the singers and instrumentalists, directed masterfully by Paul Goodwin, rendered a humble and beautiful account of the passion, crucifixion, and death of Jesus Christ. There was a simplicity and purity to the contemplative verses, and Peter’s heart wrenching cry for God’s mercy in the Ebarme dich, sung by Meg Bragle, was deeply moving. Bach’s work was faithfully brought to life last evening, with the listener being inspired to the ultimate joy of Jesus’ sacrifice, as evidenced by the spontaneous outpouring of emotion during the standing ovation. Conductor Paul Goodwin, the singers and the entire Festival Orchestra are to be congratulated for the exquisite tone and balance they produced in the concert hall.

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