27 March 2018

A blessed Easter 1

This is a blessed Easter in Canberra: we can hear both Bach Passions. The first was a grand affair, St Matthew Passion at St Christopher's at Manuka with 31 musicians in two orchestras and ~140 singers from two choirs. The musicians were from Canberra Symphony Orchestra and the like with BJ Gilby and Pip Thompson as the two orchestra leaders. The choirs were Canberra Choral Society and Australis Voices (one of the Woden Valley Youth Choir family). The whole was conducted by Andrew Koll of local Canberra Bach Ensemble fame with solo vocalists Robert Macfarlane, Jeremy Tatchell, Greta Claringbould, Maartje Sevenster, Christopher Roach and Andrew Fysh and a series of choir members playing smaller parts (identified when in character with a coloured scarf). St Matthew's is big regardless, but this was unabridged, totalling 78 movements, variously chorales or recitative or aria, in two parts with an interval. 3.5 hours in the original German. There was a script and translation projected but it wasn't always easy to read. Impressive and demanding, even for audience. But the time went. I loved the returning choruses, the voices were sometimes startling, always reverent, relevant. The Evangelist holds it together by telling the story, but what a job. Robert McFarlane was hugely impressive in this role. It's a story we know well enough, although spread over 3 hours there were features and references that I didn't know so well, so educational too. Other than the basses on stools or Pip or Barbara who occasionally stood, or a peak at the solo Viola da gamba down the aisle, I could see little. But then I mostly watch the bassists anyway. They were Kyle Daniel and Isabella Brown, both of CSO. Mostly it was delicious Bach contrapuntal fare but just once I was aghast, well into the first part with reference to Hell. It was bass hell: a very long fretful passage of semiquavers. But they pulled it off. Otherwise, I noticed how cleverly Bach expressed the plot or theme of a chorus in his writing. Somewhere in the second part I realised how effective it was then I heard it ongoing. And that haunting chorus that recurs, sung by both choirs (is it Wir setzen uns mit Tranen nieder or part thereof?) that just has your skin squirming with its simple beauteous melody and deep intimacy. Just a stunner. A fabulously successful outing for this work of great genius. Congratulations to all. Now for Bach's other survived passion on Good Friday...

JS Bach St Matthew Passion was performed at St Christopher's Manuka Canberra Choral Society and Australis Voices, two orchestras led by Pip Thompson and BJ Gilby with solo voices Robert Macfarlane (Evangelist), Jeremy Tatchell (Jesus), Greta Claringbould (soprano), Maartje Sevenster (alto), Christopher Roach (tenor) and Andrew Fysh (bass) under Andrew Koll (conductor).

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