Matthäus-Passion with the OAE (un)conducted by Mark Padmore: missed opportunity
This Passion by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was announced as conducted by Mark Padmore and that was not fully true. Maybe he conducted during the rehearsals, maybe the idea and conception of the performance was his but he was not conducting anything during the public performance. It’s ok to have a chamber orchestra without conductor, and many baroque ensembles rely on the continuo players to get tempi indications and attacks. Here that task was spread on the principal instrument opening each part and that was problematic mostly with the 2 choirs. Also having the group of four soloist in the middle, being part of choir 1 with the other half being behind added extra problems during attacks and blending.
Other major problem was a conceptual one: the dramatic sense of the work was unbalanced, relying mostly on the evangelist inflections, and leaving the rest of the characters with a much more flat singing. Is true that the score itself provides more space and accents for the evangelist but that doesn’t mean that he should be the only allowed to make sostenuti or ritardandi.
Said that, Mark Padmore sung a textbook evangelist, nice and effective. Others soloists were good too: Roderick Williams as a very human Christ. Some arias were sung by the soloists but some other were done by members of the choirs for no obvious reason. Again this was unbalanced as the soloists were much better than those in the choir (with the exception of the tenor that was top level).
The orchestra did a fantastic work and after touring the show they have it polished.
A pity for the missed opportunity because with less ego and more common sense this could have been a remarkable good one.