Magazine article The New Yorker

Sounds of Passion

Magazine article The New Yorker

Sounds of Passion

Article excerpt

In 1981, the musicologist Joshua Rifkin proposed a startling theory: that Bach's B-Minor Mass was first performed with one singer on each part, not by a hearty Lutheran chorale. Now Paul McCreesh, the director of London's Gabrieli Consort and Players, has applied that theory to another Eastertide favorite, the "St. Matthew Passion," in a new recording on Deutsche Grammophon.

McCreesh employs just eight vocalists to cover all the choral and solo parts. This means that the first tenor sings almost all the time--and fortunately Mark Padmore is able to switch instantly from the breathless delivery of the Evangelist's storytelling to the gentler guilt-drenched lyricism of the solo arias. The singers are magnificent as a team, and the effect, when combined with the sleek and nimble performances of the instrumentalists, can be gripping--giving us a radical idea of what this piece, in its purest form, may really be.

Performance-practice issues aren't a problem in contemporary music, especially when the composers and performers are one--as in "Extempore II," a rich and subtle jazz setting of the Roman Catholic Mass on Harmonia Mundi, composed by eight more Brits--the combined forces of the Orlando Consort male vocal group and the jazz quartet Perfect Houseplants. …

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