Good Friday Bach St John Passion – 5* review

‘Comparing the only two Bach Passions to survive intact, the St John is virtually half the length of the St Matthew, the one compact and dramatic, the other luxuriantly reflective.

‘But Jeffrey Skidmore made a full Good Friday afternoon out of Ex Cathedra’s performance of the St John by recreating the circumstances of Good Friday Vespers in Bach’s own Church of St Thomas in Leipzig. These involved organ improvisations and chorale preludes, sympathetically and appropriately delivered here by Alexander Mason, congregational hymns, and a sermon, here represented by Jill Robinson’s sensitive readin from Ben Okri’s “Is time exhausted?”

‘Proceedings were topped and tailed with motets, ending with the traditional funeral Ecce quomodo moritur justus by Jacob Handl. But we had begun with the premiere of Alec Roth’s Verlass uns nicht, setting the atmosphere perfectly, and its plangent dissonances reaching timelessly down the centuries.

‘And so into the Bach, rustling, urgent and pulsating, Skidmore, Ex Cathedra and its remarkable baroque orchestra constantly alert to the shifting textures and timbres of this gripping work.

‘Choristers sang with the agility of instrumentalists, the orchestra produced a range of colours which the double forces of the St Matthew actually don’t find, and the soloists projected with involvement and security, even in Bach’s most larynx-twisting writing.

‘We were all on our feet to sing the concluding “Now thank we all our God”. What a cunning way for Jeffrey Skidmore to ensure a standing ovation.’ (Birmingham Post)

Click for details of our Good Friday concert next year.

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