Bach: St Matthew Passion
The Sage, Gateshead
This was my first visit to the Sage, and very impressed I was. Photographs do not give a sense of the height it stands above the Tyne and the magnificent views up and down the river and across over Newcastle. The vast undulating shell covers three performance areas and visitors are encouraged to enter the auditoria even when rehearsals are in progress - a tip which should be encouraged further south! It is also remarkably easy to find, both as a building in the city and to negotiate once inside.
If my reaction to the Northern Sinfonia's performance of the St Matthew is somewhat muted it is not just because Matthew Best had to take over on the podium at the last minute from an indisposed Thomas Zehetmair. What the event lacked more than anything was a sense of focus. Some attempt at a baroque sound, with generally fast tempi and light textures, was at odds with the modern instrumental playing and rather romantic approach of the chorus. The two chamber organs were allowed some ornamentation but otherwise this was heavily restricted, leading to dull da capo arias.
Andrew Staples tenor soloist was the finest voice on stage, and both Malin Christensson and Alexandra Sherman impressed. However, Nathan Vale's Evangelist too often strained for effect and Graeme Broadbent's Jesus was woolly and uncomfortable.
In quieter passages the chorus sang well but higher dynamics lacked clarity.
It is a fine acoustic in Hall 1 and I'd be happy to hear it under other circumstances. BH
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