Concert Preview – Bach’s St Matthew Passion

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photoDr John Stanton, trustee of The Bach Choir, looks ahead to our performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion this Sunday, and what makes it so special.

“So this Sunday is The Bach Choir’s annual performance of J S Bach’s iconic St Matthew Passion. To put that in context, I’m in and strongly committed to The Bach Choir and am a little obsessed with Bach’s music, particularly his choral works. But it will be so much more than another enjoyable concert, the event is one markedly different from every other The Bach Choir concert for a number of reasons.

First, the music. Bach was a genius. Fan or not, there’s no disputing his importance and contribution to the musical world and the extent to which this continues to influence musicians today. Of particular note, however, the Matthew Passion is one of his very best outputs – its drama, its depth and its variety of music make it, in places, truly sublime and spine-tingling to sing. Demanding large forces – a double choir, double orchestra, 6 soloists and a ripieno chorus, it is a work that can (though not in The Bach Choir’s performances) last over 3 hours. Klemperer’s recording, indeed, lasts for 3hrs 45mins. Written for Good Friday in Leipzig in 1727, it is often compared to the John Passion and, indeed, I – like many – would say that I prefer the earlier work (just) – the John being composed as part of JS’s audition for his post in Leipzig at Easter 1723. But the two passions are different – the Matthew, in my opinion is an opera, the John more of an oratorio. As such, the arias stand out in the Matthew as some of Bach’s best writing – diverse, dramatic and, at times, emotionally rich. The John, by contrast, offers the choir more of an active role. The Matthew Passion, though, can be counted amongst Bach’s most amazing compositions and it will be great to perform it again.

Second, the choir. The Bach Choir’s annual passiontide performance of the Matthew Passion goes back deep into this great institution’s long and distinguished history and, as such, it has become something of a milestone on the musical calendar. Consequently, the piece runs through the choir’s veins and is known so well that it can be approached differently from other works that we rehearse. Little changes and tweaks are made each year and these work to refine, year by year, our performance, ensuring that it remains fresh. Performing something with such heritage, however, brings a special sense of contribution to an important musical festival. It is a piece that belongs to the choir, to a degree, and it’s great to be a part of that year after year.

Third, the time and event. Generally, concerts take place of an evening, after a hard day’s work. As such, they often feel like an added extra to a day’s proceedings, albeit a big and enjoyable one. By contrast, performing – as we do – at 11am on Passion (or Palm, depending on the year) Sunday means that that day is about one thing. Indeed, add a 2 hour lunch break, and you have a full day’s event, one that finishes about 4pm with a great sense of achievement and the culmination of a musical and, in some ways, spiritual journey.

The annual performance of the Matthew Passion, therefore, is a key event. Musically sublime, historically important and year after year significant. It gets better and better and I, for one, can’t wait for what will be my 6th passion with The Bach Choir.”

To read John’s post on his blog, go to: http://drjsstanton2910.blogspot.co.uk/

The Bach Choir perform Bach’s St Matthew Passion with Florilegium at the Royal Festival Hall this Sunday 6 April at 11am.

Tickets are still available from the Southbank Centre Box Office on 0844 847 9910 or online at: http://bit.ly/1dKBKMF.