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6th April 2014
The Bach Choir has performed the St Matthew Passion complete, and in English, on Passion or Palm Sunday for many years. As usual, this year there is a long lunch interval between Parts I and II during which many concert goers either picnic in the Royal Festival Hall or go out for lunch at one of the many restaurants nearby.
The narrative text of the Passion, taken from St Matthew’s Gospel chapter 26, verses 1–75, and chapter 27, verses 1–66, is played out by the Evangelist, Christ, and the various smaller roles which include Judas, Peter and Pilate, as well as the crowd. The Evangelist sings throughout with bass instruments and organ only, whereas Christ is surrounded by a ‘halo’ of string accompaniment. The story is interspersed with interjections from the crowd, chorales, or hymns, reflecting on the narrative, and many fine arias, sung by the four soloists. The congregation at Bach’s church in Leipzig, hearing this music for the first time, would have heard a lengthy sermon following the music of Part I.
The ripieno choir is made up of girls from schools in and around London, some of whom have in the past gone on to become singing members of The Bach Choir; giving this opportunity to talented girls is another important strand in our Outreach work.
Notes From the Composer / Conductor
David Hill talks about the thorny issue of performance practice. Should the St Matthew Passion be performed by a Choir as large as The Bach Choir? What about authenticity? These are his thoughts:
‘I am sometimes asked about The Bach Choir’s annual St Matthew Passion performances by those who feel that Bach should perhaps only be performed by small groups of singers. It is true that The Bach Choir may not be giving a strictly authentic rendition – Bach certainly could not have accommodated a choir of over 200 in either of his two churches in Leipzig – but there is something very special about the way in which The Bach Choir is able to sing with the lightness of touch that is typical of much smaller choirs, whilst providing the dynamic energy needed in the crowd scenes, as well as the lyricism which is so much a feature of the opening and closing choruses. Such is the universality of Bach’s music, like Handel, it can be performed in all manner of ways, and I believe this is one of the reasons why The Bach Choir’s St Matthew performances remain so popular.’