Passion in all its many forms was explored during this recitation of Bach's interpretation of the Gospel of St John. Together the musical ensemble – an abridged orchestra, the choir of Queen's College and six soloists - led by Conductor Owen Rees, conveyed the highs and lows, subtle nuances and fervour of the Easter Story as told in the Gospel of St John.
From their opening, “Lord, our redeemer”, the choir were united and harmonious. Instrumentally, the performance was underpinned throughout by the trio of cello, bassoon and harpsichord, which leant depth to the performance and conveyed a feeling of age and context to the concert.
Peter Adams on cello provided a perfect medium to convey the repeating melody of the piece and his excellence was recognised at the end by rapturous applause. His performance also provided an emotive counter-point to the outstanding performance of Dan Norman as the Evangelist/Narrator. This role is central to this interpretation of the gospel and underpins the whole performance and was sung with controlled zeal and delivered in precise, decipherable German. Dan Norman's performance was assured in tone and melody. This controlled and impassioned performance also proved an excellent counter-point to that of the other vocalists: a calm delivery contrasting the passion of the choir of Queen's and an excellently controlled counter-point to the range of desires and emotions conveyed by the other singers. Dan Norman's performance contrasted well with the passion and verve of the sections sung by Kate Symonds-Joy, mezzo soprano, and Raphaela Papadakis, soprano.
Such a recitative piece can be difficult to perform, yet all the participants managed to convey a gamut of emotions: desire, rage, excitement, fear and awe and in the beautiful setting of the Sheldonian Theatre the audience were carried along on a musical road from Gethsemane to Golgotha, caught up in St Peter's experience. During this journey, Ashley Riches' interpretation of Pilate was rich in tone and gave gravitas to the unfolding events. Throughout the performance Giles Underwood's Christ was sung in simple, clear tones.
Unfortunately, I personally was not caught up in the delight of the rest of the audience. I found the overall experience uncomfortable – I am not greatly religious, have little experience of such choral music and have very unhappy memories of learning some German. However, I was clearly in the minority as the rest of the audience was greatly enthused by the performance and whilst I could appreciate it's excellence on many levels - tone, harmony and a great ensemble performance - I personally was not impassioned by the experience.