Sober and poignant
by Suzanne Daumann
An intimate and touching performance captures the essence of Bach's masterpiece, a message for our times beyond religion.
Rennes, March 3th, 2019 - It’s early spring, it’s lent, it’s time for Bach’s grand Passions and so the young baroque ensemble Le Banquet Céleste, in residence at the Opéra de Rennes, tackles the Saint John Passion, and the result is more more than convincing.
Under Damien Guillon’s precise and inspired conducting, a concentrated instrumental ensemble, with a sound so dense it was almost harsh, a children’s choir and the Ensemble Vocal Mélisme(s), and a wonderful selection of soloists took us once again through the well-known story, in a sort of intense and musical meditation.
Thomas Hobbs was a wonderful Evangelist, with perfect diction and intonation, present from the beginning to the end. The intensity of his recitative singing made us believe that the terrible story about persecution, torture and death happened only yesterday.
Just as convincing and very moving was Benoît Arnould as Jesus. Quiet authority, acceptation of the unacceptable - this Jesus brought home the symbolic power of the Passion of Christ. In our hedonist times, when the thoughts of the entire society are turned toward enjoyment and consumerism, this society that denies the facts of suffering and death by hiding them behind thick walls, in these our times it can be salutary to remember that sometimes suffering leads to its transcendence. This is the symbolism that speaks to us in this work, wether we be Christian or not. This worked very well in the intimacy of this small hall, where a small ensemble accompanied the singers with discreet passion. Thus, the arias sung by the soloists could take on their whole meaning and the singers could give the best of themselves. Soprano Céline Scheen, counter-tenor Paul-Antoine Bénos-Djian, tenor Nicholas Schott - they were all remarkable, pure clear voices, experienced baroque interpreters all of them, at ease in the difficult Bach repertoire. Without necessarily understanding the text, without necessarily looking at the over-titles, the public understood the essence of every air, forgetting sometimes even to breathe.
Tobias Berndt was remarkable as Pilate, with his warm and agile baritone. He gave life to the inner conflict of his character, and sung his air with particular grace.
Very impressive were the young singers of the Maîtrise de Bretagne and the Choeur Mélisme(s). The tessitura of the children’s voices gave extra dramatic force to the mass scenes, and the men of Mélisme(s) were impeccable, as usual.
An evening rich of emotions and reflections, all in all, greeted by warm and well merited applause and bravos. Thank you and bravo, everyone!
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