Saturday, February 13, 2016

St John at St John's

Final bows at St John Passion in St John's Smith Sq
To a magnificent performance of the St John Passion last night at St John's Smith Square, by the combined choirs of Winchester and Eton, with the Academy of Ancient Music and soloists and conductor all with connections with the schools.

Winchester and Eton were founded over 350 and 250 years before the first performance in 1724 - and St John's Smith Square was built in 1728 so pretty much contemporary.

Stephen Layton (a chorister at Winchester Cathdral, Choral Scholar at Eton and now Director of Music at Trinity) was the conductor and James Gilchrist (Winchester, worked as a Doctor but became a full-time musician in 1996) - Masters at the height of their powers - were the conductor and the Evangelist. But apart from one lapse (I think he might have had a cold) the other soloists were excellent: I would particularly single out:
  • Andrew Staples (Eton) Tenor
  • James Birchall (St George's Windsor Castle and Winchester) Jesus - and especially 
  • Ashley Riches (Scholar Winchester, English at Cambridge, Jett Parker Young Artist) who sung Pilate with consummate musicianship and intelligence and is definitely one to watch! He's doing:
    • The world Premiere of  A Prussian Requiem at the Festival Hall on the 6th March
    • Matthew Passion with John Eliot Gardiner on European Tour incl 26th Mar Barbican.
Young Angus Benton (Winchester) - currently BBC Young Chorister of the Year was also excellent in the heart-rending Zerfliesse, mein Herze.
One minor bugbear: the translations of the Arias and Chorales that they published use rhyming versions as found in libretti, which often do violence to the words that Bach so exquisitely sets.  To give just one example:
Ach, mein Sinn,
Wo willt du endlich hin,
means (as given in this useful translation) something like:
O my conscience /sense - Sinn is difficult to translate. It can even mean mind
where will you flee at last,
and not - as given in the programme:
O my soul
How futile is your goal

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