Bach’s St John Passion

CHRISTOPHER SMITH St Andrew's Hall, Norwich


> St Andrew's Hall, Norwich

Under David Dunnett's direction, the Norwich Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra, led by Ben Lowe and with Timothy Patient at the chamber organ, and a team of six soloists presented an austere interpretation of the St John Passion in German.

It was not that there was any lack of strength, but a determination to resist the temptation of drawing out every possible emotion was basic to this performance. No doubt recalling that Bach himself favoured brisk speeds, the conductor was always pressing on.

The advantages of this approach were clear in David Burrows' singing of the part of the Evangelist. He caught neatly enough the sense of events rushing on headlong in the few days before the Crucifixion. Once or twice, though, at moments where the composer elaborated the music to highlight key points, a pronounced change of pace really was called for.

Michael Bundy had a dark, if not especially rich voice, that pleasingly contrasted with Burrows' light tenor. As Christus, he was calm, even serene, effortlessly imposing authority, and in the bass lyric arias he was elegant, deft and sympathetic. It was a pity, though, that he had to take two roles. Any sense of drama was offended when the same singer was the Saviour and a sinner responding to His Crucifixion.

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Katharine Fuge, Susanna Spicer and Christopher Watson, the other lyric soloists, were disappointing. The contralto lacked the heroic tone needed in her final aria, and the tenor made nothing of the parallel between Christ's blood flowing after the Scourging and the rainbow shining as a sign of grace. Among the obbligato instrumentalists, cellist Crispin Warren was outstanding.

The hundred-strong Chorus sang out with a will, and it responded well to the haunting lullaby that concludes this towering masterpiece.

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