The Scotsman – Bach’s St John Passion at St Cuthbert’s – 2008

This review was originally published as a Live Review on The Scotman’s Website on Sunday, 16 March 2008.

BACH’S St John Passion may not be as lengthy or grand as his St Matthew Passion but it is nevertheless packed with glorious chorales, recitatives and arias that tell the story of the Christ’s crucifixion from John’s point of view.

Narrated by the evangelist, sung by the silky-voiced tenor Simon Wall, this intense and more intimate version of events unfolds dramatically through the distinctive voices of the characters involved. Celebrating their 150th anniversary this year, the ERCU sung with great verve and urgency in their varying roles of an angry mob, soldier, commentators and onlookers leaving the personal reflections in the poetic arias to the soloists.

These were a fine line-up, particularly the young professional singers: mezzo-soprano Louise Collett, who has a beautiful warmth and clarity to her voice, soprano Lisa Swayne, who negotiated some tricky chromatic passages with agility and tenor Eamonn Mulhall.

Martin Shaw, the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles brought a gravitas to the part of Christ while Noel Mann was a suitably reluctant Pilate.

Bach’s pairing of solo voices with specific instruments, for instance the mezzo with oboes, the soprano with flutes and tenor with violins, is inspired and the orchestra, led by Justine Watts, played superbly. Conductor Michael Bawtree pulled all the intricate threads of this complex work together with consummate skill. This was a compelling and emotive performance.

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