April 2004: Bach St Matthew Passion


Exeter Cathedral, 1 April 2004

Source: J Holt, Making Music (National Federation of Music Societies) Visitor

"A capacity audience enjoyed a polished performance of this majestic work. Once again we experienced fine singing from the choir. Their marked contrasts between the ''crowds'' and the chorales were emphasised by clarity of words and a wide range of emotional expression.

The soloists were of very high quality, although I did detect one or two rather forced notes of the soprano! All the voices were well suited for this work and the Evangelist's demanding part was sung with great feeling and clarity. If I had to pick out one exceptional item, it was the alto aria ''if my weeping''; a most moving experience!

The orchestra was of an equally high standard and the whole performance was directed sympathetically, but firmly, by Nigel Perrin.

This was an evening in which I am certain many were deeply moved by the musical drama which unfolded in what must be one of the finest 'Passions' ever composed."

Exeter Express & Echo

Source: Simon Artymiuk

"In the lead-up to Easter there could be no more appropriate concert to go to than a performance of one of J S Bath's Passions, which were specifically written to be performed in the churches of Leipzig, Saxony.

Much as Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ has sought to bring home to 21st century audiences the degree of Jesus's suffering through graphic visual imagery so Bach sought to help 18th century Lutheran and Pietist parishioners understand this story of sacrifice, betrayal and hope through the musical 'mood' which the composer brought to his settings of a libretto provided by the Leipzig poet Picander. This, as the title suggests, had been based on the St Matthew's Gospel account.

The result is quite an epic to sit through in one evening but the cathedral - an appropriate setting for a liturgical work - was almost full for the performance by the choir of the Exeter Festival Chorus, ably conducted by their musical director Nigel Perrin, and accompanied by the Wessex Sinfonia.

The words ought to be sung in German, but as the original aim was to make people understand the Bible's message by using the vernacular it was appropriate that on this occasion the English translation was used. The choir performed impressively. As for the soloists, Neil Jenkins - an expert on Bach's works - coped splendidly with the high notes demanded of tenors in the composer's narrative sections, while fellow tenor Daniel Auchincloss showed equal aptitude with the recitatives and arias. Quentin Hayes was solid as Jesus and in the bass arias, while the alto singer Wendy Dawn Thompson and the soprano Alison Smart were excellent.

The orchestra play faultlessly led by violinist Adrian Eales and with Andrew Daldorph providing the continuo on that essential Bach accessory, the harpsichord, Direct or of Music at Exeter Cathedral Andrew Millington played the organ accompaniment.

The real scene-stealer, however, was a cellist - unfortunately not named in the programme - whose expressive and fluent playing, whether with the bow or in pizzicato, was as much a joy to watch as to listen to. Let's hope he can play in Exeter again in the future."