Review: Truly a religious experience
St John Passion St John's, Smith Square Barbican
Tuesday 14 April 1998
The two evangelists were chalk and cheese. At St John's, on Good Friday, Ian Bostridge combined melodrama and vocal finesse, while polyphony and canzona under Stephen Layton provided him with solid if sometimes cavalier support. Easter Sunday's Barbican presentation by the Gabrieli Consort and Gabrieli Players, conducted by Paul McCreesh, employed smaller forces - just eight voices in all, though the band included a harpsichord - with Charles Daniels declaiming the narrative in place of an indisposed Barry Banks.
Bostridge acted the true zealot, focusing on salient dramatic episodes (ie the chorus's cries for Barrabas) as if he had personally witnessed them. There was real spite in his portrayal, too - real irony, as he related how the chief priest told Pilate "Write not, the King of the Jews but ... I am the King of the Jews". He would confide from the front of the stage, turning to the chorus with the arrival of each chorale, while the more impersonal Daniels stood elevated towards the rear of the stage.
As for the soloists, Layton's soprano Catherine Bott, though prone to strain, sang with rather more personality than the pleasing, if bland, Susan Hemington-Jones. Counter-tenor James Bowman employed his ageing voice with vintage artistry, but McCreesh's mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley kept a firmer hold on Bach's musical lines, especially in the heart-rendering aria "Es ist vollbracht!" that precedes Christ's passing. Peter Harvey's Christ was more vibrant than Robert Rice's at St John's, where Thomas Guthrie tackled the additional bass arias (Harvey sang them all), braving a nosebleed in the arioso. Paul Agnew was Layton's excellent tenor soloist, though Daniels' singing of the tenor arias was equally lyrical.
Instrumental support was notably superior at the Barbican, where the Gabrielis' minimal forces made their strongest impression in part two and Jonathan Manson bowed an eloquent viola da gamba accompaniment in "Es ist vollbracht!". In the crowd scenes, McCreesh's quartet sounded like hecklers obsessed by counterpoint (his four soloists joined in only for the chorales and larger choruses), and yet the approach paid dividends, especially where rhythmic incisiveness is called for, as when the ferocious chorus casts lots for Jesus's garments.
McCreesh's handling of the chorales was generally more flowing and keenly attenuated than Layton's, though anyone eavesdropping at St John's will surely have left the building nourished by what they heard.
Life & Style blogs
Versace haute couture review: Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
Why you should never make assumptions about people with autism
What supermodels really think about posing in the nude
People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
What do the emojis on Snapchat mean?
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
- 1 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response yet from Ellen DeGeneres
- 2 What supermodels really think about posing in the nude
- 3 People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
- 4 Black teen in critical condition after store employee 'shoots him for stealing 79-cent pack of cookies'
- 5 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
£20000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This long established dealer gr...
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company is the UK's leading...
£23172 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading and fastest growing h...
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an experienced Resident...