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Bach’s St John Passion

This work is long and testing for choral singers, involving moods that switch rapidly from the reflective chorales to the sudden, fluctuating demands of the ‘mob’, whose cruel and sometimes violently chromatic fugues cry now for the exposure of the disciple Peter, now for the release of Barabbas, now, ironically, for the ‘King of the Jews’, and lastly for the crucifixion of Jesus.

All this powerful drama is bracketed by the two vast and very beautiful choruses that open and close the whole piece. In addition, there are the meditative arias, in our case all being taken by different members of the choir and all requiring vocal assurance as well as depth of feeling. Furthermore, for all the intrinsic glory of the music, this Passion can risk losing intensity in its sheer scale and the complex shape of the narrative. So what of our performance? Liz Croft set out from the start to retain all the immediacy Bach intended by using the language of the audience/congregation—in our case English—in order to make sure that the story remained vibrantly alive to hearers and singers alike. During the four week rehearsal period, she focused particularly on diction, musical articulation, choral blend and emotional depth in the movements, always looking for the feeling to come directly through via first rate singing. To the great credit of Liz, the choir as a unit, the soloists and also Stephen Brown’s excellent Evangelist, the performance succeeded in holding the audience as it were on the edge of their seats—as though an account so well-known were being told for the first time. Both choir and audience felt that this was a moving and extremely successful concert: one of our best!