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Saturday 01 April 2017 7:30 PM
St John's, Smith Square, London SW1P 3HA
Bach – St John Passion (sung in English)
Crouch End Festival Chorus
David Temple – conductor
Robert Murray – Evangelist
Andrew Ashwin – Christ
Grace Davidson – soprano
Robin Blaze – counter-tenor
Nicholas Mulroy – tenor
Ben Davies – bass
The essence of J.S. Bach’s St John Passion – with its extraordinary beauty, profundity and visceral energy – is the communication of a human story. This is at the heart of CEFC’s interpretation of the work. Using Neil Jenkins’s sensitive translation into English, the true horror and pathos of the story of the Passion is communicated directly from the mouths of the singers to the ears and hearts of the listening audience.
Saturday 1 April 2017, 7.30pm
St John's, Smith Square, London SW1P 3HA
Standard CEFC concessions apply
St John’s Smith Square box office: 020 7222 1061
Online booking with St John's Smith Square
The brooding, portentous clouds conjured by the opening bars of the St John Passion followed by the shouted Hail of the Chorus only hint at the emotional and spiritual depth of this master work.
The Hail, rather than the usual Herr tell us that this is to be sung in English. The performance uses a new edition of Neil Jenkins’ excellent translation: his task was not simply to translate but also to find words that resonate and fit Bach’s score. He succeeded.
Debates will forever rumble about the merits of using the original German or the vernacular. All I can say is that, with as good a translation as this one, the audience had the opportunity to understand and appreciate the drama as it developed and so better engage with the emotional intensity of the piece.
The busiest man of the evening (other than bustling conductor David Temple) was tenor Robert Murray. As the Evangelist, he drives the narrative and sets the mood for the work as it progresses from Judas’ betrayal to Christ’s crucifixion and interment. Over the evening’s two hours Robert was magnificent.
His performance was matched by the other soloists. Grace Davidson, with only two verses, impressed with her crystal clear, effortless soprano and her stunning interpretation of O Heart, melt in weeping. For emotional intensity she was matched by Nicholas Mulroy who, despite a rather pugnacious looking exterior, produced one of the most tender moments of the evening when lamenting the punishment inflicted on Christ Behold Him, See His body.
Robin Blaze’s counter tenor was incredible while Ben Davis (in a variety of roles) employed his wonder bass, carefully nuanced to each part.
Andrew Ashwin’s mellow baritone as Christ was mesmerising –his exchanges with Pilate were electric and his words from the last moments on the cross were beyond tragic.
The music was provided by the new (2014) Bach Camerata. This Baroque chamber orchestra looked so at home in the Baroque beauty of St John’s and sounded completely at ease with the challenge of the subtleties of the piece.
The Chorus was incredible. The work calls on them so summon up the whole range of emotions – heart ripping chorales, tender regret, joyous hope and, of course, the righteous, terrifying mob braying for blood, the blood of Christ. As the concert concluded, it was clear from the reactions of some members that the evening had had a deep emotional impact.
St John’s is a stone’s throw from the Palace of Westminster, over the past week the scene of momentous events. Hugh Bowden, in his perceptive programme note reflecting on the tyranny of crowds, he writes “We are presented with a world where crowds are manipulated by dishonest and self serving political leaders, and where fear of popular displeasure prevents those who hold office from going what they know to be right.”
Little seems to have changed in 2,000 years.
It seems that there has been no new commercially available English version recording of St John’s Passion for nearly half a century. However, in September, over three days, CEFC with the Bach Camerata took over St Jude’s, Hampstead and produced a recording for Chandos (www.chandos.net to a preview, download and to order).
I’ve heard it and it is brilliant.
A Choir member has also made a film of the recording sessions – https://youtu.be/Ecv9tulqkEc