St Albans Bach Choir
Nicholas Mulroy (Evangelist)
Thomas Flint (Christus)
Rowan Pierce (soprano)
Helen Charlston (mezzo)
Peter Mitchell (tenor)
Benjamin Bevan (baritone)
The St John Passion was the first of the two great Passion settings by J S Bach, written and performed soon after he was appointed Kapellmeister to the churches in Leipzig. Originally he had intended it to be sung in the Thomaskirche, but the Council (with whom Bach was to have a difficult relationship) altered the venue to the Nikolaikirche at short notice. It was performed on Good Friday 1724, originally in two parts, with a sermon in between. For better or for worse, St Albans Bach Choir’s current performance will concentrate solely on the music!
The text is taken from chapters 18 and 19 of the Lutheran translation of St John’s Gospel. In the, by then, well established tradition of the German Passion, a tenor soloist sings the part of the Evangelist, telling the story, and is backed up by the choir and other soloists playing the various characters of the drama. Soloists reflect in their arias on the spiritual message told by the narrative. This is summed up in chorales, being Lutheran hymns in which the Leipzig congregation may well have joined (another tradition no longer to be repeated).
This was not Bach’s first Passion setting: he wrote one while at the court of Weimar, but this is now lost. It may be that he re-used some of that music in the St John Passion. He continued to revise the work, adding new numbers in 1725, 1732 and 1749. The work has been described as more extravagant than its successor, the St Matthew Passion, with an expressive immediacy, at times more unbridled and less 'finished'. However, Bach himself considered the earlier work to be supremely important. Perhaps the biggest joy of the St John Passion is that, for all the ferocity and sorrow of the Good Friday story, it is a truly optimistic work, anticipating the resurrection with music suffused with light and hope.
The Passion forms a staple part of St Albans Bach Choir’s repertoire, having last been performed in 2011. While no longer being intended for worship on Good Friday, it will form an important part of preparation for Holy Week and Easter.
St Albans Bach Choir has been performing since 1924: recent programmes have included Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, Verdi’s Requiem (also in London's Cadogan Hall), Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, and in July 2016 the choir joined forces with the St Albans Cathedral Choirs to present Bach's Mass in B minor with The English Concert. In 2013, as part of the St Albans International Organ Festival’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations, the choir performed Britten’s War Requiem with the Britten Sinfonia under the baton of Sir Richard Armstrong. Last summer the choir returned to the Festival in July for a performance of Handel's Messiah with the London Handel Orchestra conducted by Laurence Cummings. In December 2013, and again in 2015, the choir joined John Rutter and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for their popular carol concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. For the past two years the choir has also been represented onstage at the Albert Hall for the Christmas and New Year editions of the BBC1 Big Sing programme.
Please visit St Albans Cathedrals' website for ticket pricing and availability here.