Performances of Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" do not always match the work's reputation. This gigantic piece demands so much over its 3 1/2 -hour duration that the greatest musical work ever written too easily can become the biggest bore in Christendom.
Fortunately that was not the case when the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, its music director, Tom Hall, a splendid orchestra and several fine soloists performed the piece Saturday night in Meyerhoff Hall. Hall's control of the work was masterly and stylish. He was not afraid to make the case for the work's grandeur, but his approach also was historically informed. Thus Jesus' betrayal scene spoke with almost Wagnerian fury and the saraband that opens Part II was not so slow that it could not be danced to.
The playing of the orchestra was often extraordinary. No listener this season has heard anything more lovely than the flute playing of Emily Controulis and Carol Bean in the first great aria for the alto, or the desperately pleading violin playing of Andrew Wasyluszko in the music that follows Peter's denial.