Whatever you think about the Reformation, it had musical consequences that only the tone-deaf could fail to celebrate. And to mark this year’s 500th anniversary, the Proms celebrated with a Reformation Day and included a potentially illuminating survey of the history of Passion music, in the Lutheran tradition.
Bits of different Passion-settings through the centuries were strung together seamlessly, so you could follow the development from simple chanting to Handel; and the modernist return to mystical austerity of Arvo Pärt. But it was like a tasting-menu: morsels that provided an unsatisfying meal. It helped explain the way sung Passions, ending as they do before the Resurrection, served the Crucifixion-focus that drives Lutheran theology. But the performance – by the technically astute but soulless BBC Singers – was plain dull.
The Reformation Day concluded, though, with something better: the Dunedin Consort down from Glasgow with perhaps the greatest Passion of them all, the Bach St John. Under their maverick director John Butt, the Dunedins were on stunning form in a performance packaged as it might have been liturgically in Bach’s time, with additional responses, organ preludes and chorales sung (movingly) by the whole audience. It went on forever but impressively, with Sophie Bevan floating the soprano arias like an angel on a cloud.
During the summer, when there’s no snow, skiing towns in the Swiss mountains have a problem which they solve with music festivals: hence Verbier, hence Gstaad … and now there’s Klosters, the exquisite (if exquisitely expensive) village famous for attracting English royalty to its off-piste runs.
There was a serious English input to the launch of the inaugural Klosters Music Festival the other week, with the artistic planning done by David Whelton, who has just retired from running London’s Philharmonia Orchestra.
But musically the emphasis was Scandinavia, with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra in residence and Swedish trumpet virtuoso Hakan Hardenberger playing and conducting (sometimes both at once, which isn’t necessarily advisable, although he pulls it off. Just). Also present was the University of Lund choir, which is like a Nordic variant on an Oxbridge chapel choir but better.
Starting a festival from scratch and in the middle of a mountain range is no small deal, but this one has ambition. Next year it will run for two weeks, and with opera (there are talks about exporting Garsington productions from Britain). Verbier and Gstaad watch out.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.