Opera Scotland

Saint Matthew Passion 1981Edinburgh International Festival

Read more about the opera Matthew Passion

The critical reception for this memorable event was somewhat grudging. Even a decade earlier it would have been greeted with rapture, as the standard of singing and interpretation was quite superb. However, stylistically it was a bit of a hybrid - the reduced forces of the mighty London Symphony Orchestra and Edinburgh Festival Chorus did not quite manage to convince as baroque stylists, even though they tried hard under Abbado's astute direction.

What was not in doubt was the virtuosic solo singing, especially the magnetic reading of the Evangelist by Peter Schreier, for many years known to be an outstanding exponent of the part. He was magnificent in every way. Hermann Prey was also renowned for his Bach performances. It seems very strange that neither of these great singers had appeared in Edinburgh before, but their summers were usually taken up with the Salzburg Festival and they were not seen often in the UK, not even in London.

The short solo roles, along with the arias, were divided among four more great singers. Gwynne Howell was authoritatively dramatic as Peter and Pilate, as well as showing himself to be an excellent baroque stylist in the bass arias. Philip Langridge was by this time singing more opera, but his flexible technique was always as good for baroque music as for new works. At this stage of her career Jessye Norman frequently used her wonderful contralto register in concerts, though it was a brave soprano who sang with her. Her pairing with Margaret Price (especially when they returned in 1982 for the Verdi Requiem) was quite superb.

Performance DatesSaint Matthew Passion 1981

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Usher Hall | Edinburgh

16 Aug, 19.30

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