Hastings Philharmonic Choir, Conductor Márcio da Silva, JS Bach St John Passion, Christ Church St Leonards, April 6. Review by Marrion Wells.
This oratorio, with its length and complexity must surely have been Bach’s favourite as it marked a turning point of his life. In 1717 he had become Kapellmeister at Cothen but after only three years his wife died, and a year later he married the 20-year-old daughter of the court trumpeter.
However his employer the Prince favoured music for entertainment, but not for religion.
Thus in 1722 Bach moved to Leipzig, applying for the post of cantor at St Thomas’s Church.
He was unsuccessful, but surprisingly the winner withdrew, and in 1723 Bach took over.
In the meantime he had written the St John Passion, and it was this work which won him the situation, where he remained for the rest of his life. The work follows two chapters of St John’s Gospel telling in Part 1 of the rival factions, the hostility to or support for Jesus, and in Part 2, his trial before Pilate, the Crucifixion, his death and finally his resurrection.
This is recounted by the choir, an orchestra mainly of strings and woodwind, and soloists who recount the action.
These were led by Daniel Joy as the Evangelist, Bach’s version of Narrator, and the voice of Pilate, whose powerful tones recounted every aspect of the action, while Laurence Meikle’s baritone reflected Jesus’s endurance and eventual triumph over death.
Soprano Alice Privett and alto Angela Simkin with tenor Peter Kirk and bass Lancelot Nomura were equally skilful in describing the action.
The orchestra was led by Eleanor Harrison who already has a distinguished career in Baroque and chamber music.
The choir, portraying a variety of emotions, responded immediately to the direction of conductor Márcio da Silva, whose dynamic control of the large company was an education in itself.
The performance was given in the presence of East Sussex’s’s Vice Lord Lieutenant, Sara Stonor DL, Hastings MP Amber Rudd, deputy mayor Cllr Bruce Dowling, representing Cllr Alan Roberts, and other distinguished guests.
Amber Rudd congratulated choir and soloists upon their impressive performance, and the leader of Hastings Borough Council Jeremy Birch reminded the audience of Hastings’ bid for the City of Culture Award, remarking upon the amenities which exist within the borough of which the evening’s performance was an outstanding example.