Authentic notes of St Albans Bach Choir's passion playing

OFTEN while listening to pieces of early music, I wonder just what the composer would have thought of a modern performance of his work. With modern instruments and performance techniques things must sound very different to how they would have done 300 yea

OFTEN while listening to pieces of early music, I wonder just what the composer would have thought of a modern performance of his work.

With modern instruments and performance techniques things must sound very different to how they would have done 300 years or so ago.

But Saturday's performance by the St Albans Bach Choir of J.S. Bach's St Matthew Passion should have sounded much as it did in the early part of the 18th century.

For conductor Andrew Lucas had made the rare choice of using a double orchestra with many of the musicians playing period instruments.


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I grant that the St Albans Bach Choir is probably far bigger than any choir Bach had available in Leipzig and certainly the techniques employed by the solo singers have changed over the years, but the resulting performance at St Albans Abbey was far gentler and softer than those we are more used to hearing today.

The choir once more showed that it was capable of producing a very fine performance with tremendous clarity and expression and always perfectly controlled. Throughout the concert they showed a thorough understanding of the music and of what Andrew Lucas was asking of them.

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Tenor Robert Johnston in the demanding role of Evangelist gave an outstanding and sensitive performance while bass Jonathan Sells, who stood in at short notice for Christopher Dixon in the role of Christus, added hugely to the enjoyment of the evening.

The four other soloists, soprano Elizabeth Cragg, alto Catherine Denley, tenor Jeremy Budd and bass Robert Gildon, all gave first-class performances but for me it was the musicians who made up Sinfonia Verdi's two specialist orchestras who were the real stars of the evening.

Kati Debretzni, the leader of the first orchestra, and Penelope Spencer, who led the second, both produced fine solos in the second half and there were also outstanding performances by the oboe players and flautists, as well as continuo cellist Jennifer Morsches.

Although the Matthew Passion is a well-known work, Saturday's performance gave a delightful opportunity to hear it in a form which must have been close to the original and that produced a truly delightful evening.

JOHN MANNING

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