Majestic setting for St John Passion

TONY COOPER For their Easter concert in Norwich Cathedral this Saturday, April 1 (7.30pm), Keswick Hall Choir join up with the Brook Street Band, under the direction of John Aplin, to perform the St John Passion by JS Bach - one of the great works of the choral repertoire and first heard in St Nicholas' Church, Leipzig, on Good Friday in 1724.

TONY COOPER

For their Easter concert in Norwich Cathedral this Saturday, April 1 (7.30pm), Keswick Hall Choir join up with the Brook Street Band, under the direction of John Aplin, to perform the St John Passion by JS Bach - one of the great works of the choral repertoire and first heard in St Nicholas' Church, Leipzig, on Good Friday in 1724.

For this performance it will be sung in the original German with the choir being joined by six soloists well-versed in the baroque style complementing exquisitely the sound of period instruments. Some of the music goes back to Bach's years at Weimar, where he worked from 1708 to 1717, but the bulk of it was probably written at the beginning of 1724.

The score calls for tenor and bass soloists - Evangelist and Christus - sung on this occasion by Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks and Colin Campbell respectively, as well as a solo quartet of soprano, alto, tenor and bass sung by Angharad Gruffydd Jones, Alexandra Gibson, Kevin Kyle and Benjamin Davies.


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Most come to the St John Passion possibly knowing the St Matthew Passion first. The bigger and more elaborate St Matthew - which came along three or, possibly, five years later - has tended to cast a shadow in which the earlier work is swallowed up. This has been so ever since Mendelssohn's performance of the St Matthew in 1829 which marked the beginning of the public rediscovery of the works of Bach.

But if the St John is smaller in scale than the St Matthew, it is hardly the lesser work in quality; though it would, of course, be unwise to claim that the master of the St Matthew had not learned from the experience of setting St John.

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The St John is the first of Bach's two Passion settings. From 1717 to 1723, Bach worked at the court of Anhalt-Cöthen, where he wrote much of his instrumental music, for example, most of his concertos (including the Brandenburgs), the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier and most of his keyboard dance suites, the works for solo violin and solo cello.

The work - which is, appropriately, being performed in the majestic setting of Norwich Cathedral on the approach to Passion Sunday - comprises words and music from many sources.

The core of the libretto is from chapters 18/19 of the Gospel According to St John in Dr Martin Luther's German translation. The hymns (or chorales as they are often called) come from several 16th- and 17th-century hymnals.

Tickets £17 to £8, students £4 off on night of concert, children £4, available from Prelude Records, St Giles', Norwich, 01603 628319

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