Disclaimer: The St John Passion by J.S. Bach is my favourite work of all time. I am in love with this composition.
At nigh on 2 hours of music the St John Passion is a journey with the greatest composer of the Baroque times – some would say ever – into a time and place that may not exist now, one where the church and religion held sway over nearly all the people of Europe. Bach’s own religious fervour, his place in the musical thinking of his time all come to the fore in a work he wrote before he was 40. It is hard to fully describe the power, majesty and innovation that pours forth from this work and one must experience it in a concert situation to be fully immersed in its perfection.
The opening chorus, extraordinary in conception and perfect in every way, was treated with such care to detail by conductor Douglas Lawrence. This is music to float away with, even to an afterlife.
Elizabeth Anderson in the highly emotional aria Von den Stricken showed a suitably mature approach and with the oboists Kirsten Barry and Andrew Angus created a moment of great introspection – a lovely moment. The next aria soloist in Ich folge was the delightful soprano voice of Elspeth Bawden who, with the magical flautist Greg Dikmans and his colleague Alison Catanach, spun music that enthralled all. The role of Jesus was handled with commanding aplomb by Jerzy Kozlowski.
Amongst the many moments of sheer delight, none were more so than the beautiful bass voice of Oliver Mann singing the aria Mein teurer Heiland. Mann was perfectly matched by the ethereal choir floating soft chords as if all were to be transported to another place. This was comfort music at its best.
And for all the excellent contributions from soloists and instrumentalists this work needs a great choir and tenor Evangelist. The Australian Chamber Choir under Douglas Lawrence were sensational – the chorales and chorus movements were appropriately energetic or heart wrenching, and always sympathetic to the text and emotion of the music. The ACC should tour this work nationally and further afield.
Timothy Reynolds is singularly one of the finest tenors in Australia and we are lucky to have him, as many Bach projects in Europe would love to a singer of his quality. His recitative work as Evangelist was astonishing in its clarity and drama, and his arioso movements were constantly beautiful. This was a performance to travel thousands of kilometres to hear, to have wash over you.